By Daniel Silliman
The falling rain thumped the leaves on the trees, turned the dirt to mud, and watered the memorial garden as it was planted.
In slick yellow raincoats and heavy boots, three county surveyors ignored the rain and the mud. They dug holes in the dirt, using sharp shovels, straight blades and their hands, and they planted young, green plants in rows around a memorial stone. The stone is masked, in the middle of the garden in Rex Park, wrapped in black until it's unveiled to reveal the name of the boy who used to play baseball here, who grew up to join the Army, fight in Iraq, and died on a road 20 miles north of Baghdad.
They planted a garden in memory of Robert Adrian Worthington, a Rex man who would be turning 21 in January.
He was 19 when he died in May 2007 in Taji, Iraq. He was a private first class, he was proud of his uniform and he would, his mother said, laugh about the memorial garden.
"He's up there right now," said Rhonda Worthington, "cheesing like hell and going, 'All this is for me?' But he didn't do it for all that. He didn't do it for recognition. He wasn't a boastful person. In his letters he says he did it for me, for his sister and for his niece, Treylin, to make it a safer world for us. I have letter after letter where he says that."
Adrian Worthington, called "Bubba" by his family and friends, told his mother his greatest fear was that his niece, five months old when he died, wouldn't know who he was. Rhonda Worthington said her biggest fear is that her son will be forgotten.
Treylin, now two years old, has a picture of her uncle she carries around and she goes to his grave site and leaves Animal Crackers in front of his picture. Rhonda, after this Saturday, will have the reassurance of the permanent memorial garden, on Rex Road by the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center.
The family originally sought to have a road memorial, but Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton arranged to have the garden planted, in addition to a one-year road-side sign.
"Our state [department of transportation] and our county DOT are bombarded with road-side memorials, so this road sign is going to be up for a year, at 2991 Rex Road, near the house where Adrian grew up. But I wanted a permanent memorial. You think about it, someone gave his life for us, we need to do something permanent to honor him," Singleton said.
Singleton arranged the memorial, accepting donated materials from area businesses and organizing the county employees to do the work, and she will lead the ceremony on Saturday, honoring Worthington. He was, Singleton said, the first soldier from Rex to die in the Iraq war. He was the 101st Georgian to die and he is "heralded as a true American hero."
"The young soldier who lost his life far away from the family that he loved so dearly and the community where he grew up was a greatly loved son of the Rex Community," Singleton said, in a written statement. "It is my honor to sponsor this memorial celebration. We all recognize the price that our soldiers are paying for our freedoms. Adrian gave his life for us."
The memorial garden will be dedicated on Saturday, starting at the road-side memorial, 2991 Rex Road, Rex, at 10 a.m.