By Jason A. Smith
Local residents will gather along the streets of Henry County today, in remembrance of the community's first soldier to die in the current conflict in Afghanistan.
The body of Sgt. 1st Class John C. Beale, of McDonough, is expected to arrive at Falcon Field in Fayetteville at approximately 6 p.m. He will then be escorted to McDonough by members of the Henry County Police Department.
The route of the escort is from Dividend Drive in Fayetteville to Highway 74, then to Ga. Highway 85. From there, the body will be taken to McDonough Road and Jonesboro Road, through the McDonough Square and on to Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors on Ga. Highway 42.
Beale, 39, was killed in Afghanistan last week. According to the Associated Press, he was one of three Georgia National Guard personnel who died Thursday from an "improvised explosive device and small arms fire."
Beale's fellow guardsmen, who perished in the incident, are Maj. Kevin M. Jenrette, 37, of Lula, Ga., and Spc. Jeffrey W. Jordan, 21, of Cave Spring. They were the first guardsmen to die since the Georgia National Guard entered Afghanistan, according to Guard spokesman, retired Lt. Col. Kenneth Baldowski.
The fallen soldiers were members of the First Battalion of the 108th Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squadron of the Georgia National Guard, Baldowski said.
"It was very early in this deployment [that] this tragedy happened," he said. "The battalion will be in Afghanistan for a full year. The mission they are undertaking is to train the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police. [The battalion is] trying to provide them the capability to assume their own defense."
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, expressed sadness at the news of Beale's death. Still, she said she is thankful for the soldier's willingness to serve his country.
"There are really no words to express our undying gratitude to this hometown hero," said Mathis. "This is a strong reminder to us, that our freedom does not come free."
Sgt. Daniel Carmichael, who works at an Army recruiting station on Jonesboro Road in McDonough, said although he did not know Beale, he is nevertheless affected, due to the camaraderie which exists among military personnel.
"It's always such a terrible loss," said Carmichael. "We hear about it all the time, but individually, we don't run into a lot of deaths."
Greg Cannon, co-owner of Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors, spoke briefly about Beale's final arrangements. Cannon took note of the significance of the occasion, and said he is "in awe" of the response which local residents have given in honor of Beale in recent days.
"It certainly brings to the forefront of your mind, that we have freedom because of people like this," said Cannon. "Sometimes, we take it for granted, but we realize there are a lot of sacrifices made for that freedom."
Beale's family will receive visitors at the funeral home Friday, from 2 p.m., to 4 p.m., and from 6 p.m., to 8 p.m., Cannon said.
Beale worked for the Clayton County Water Authority, along with his wife, Crystal. His family, which includes 13-year-old son, Christopher, and eight-year-old daughter, Calye, are members of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church, where Beale's funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday.
He will be laid to rest in Fayetteville following that service.