By Jason A. Smith
A fallen soldier from McDonough will be honored with a road dedication today, on the first anniversary of his death.
A portion of Jonesboro Road in McDonough, will be designated in memory of Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class John Beale, in a ceremony tonight at 7 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Henry County Board of Commissioners, State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough) and the Georgia Department of Transportation, will be held at Alexandria Hall, located at 103 Jonesboro Road.
SFC John Beale Hero's Highway will stretch from McDonough Parkway to the railroad tracks near The Square. Beale, 39, was killed in Afghanistan on June 4, 2009.
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis is among the state and local government leaders who backed the dedication project. Today's event, she said, highlights the "patriotic" nature of local residents. "I just think it's important that we remember the sacrifices that our servicemen and women make," Mathis said. "This is just a small way of doing that."
Mathis said she discussed the road venture with Rep. Davis last year, adding that the Board of Commissioners was in favor of the move, but could not change the name of the road without authorization. "Jonesboro Road is part of a state route, so the honorary designation had to be approved by the state legislature," she said.
Davis authored a State Senate resolution to designate the road in Beale's honor, during the 2010 legislative session. The measure, he said, had widespread support from lawmakers. "There was no one that was opposed to doing this dedication at all," Davis said. "The man was a leader in our community."
Davis added that Beale's death touched the lives of local residents, who showed their respect for the soldier when his body was brought home. "The outpouring of support from the community when he came home was etched into our history," said Davis. "The streets were lined with people. I'm proud to live in a community that reflects on the sacrifices of our military."
National Guard spokesman, retired Col. Ken Baldowski, said Beale was the first guardsman to die in the military branch's Afghan deployment, which began in February of 2009. Baldowski said he appreciates the road-dedication gesture, and other displays of support for fallen soldiers.
"I think something like this underscores how the community felt about Beale," he said. "We've lost eight National Guard soldiers in Georgia since the deployment began, and what we have found is community support and encouragement for their families."
Sgt. Beale's wife, Crystal Beale, of McDonough, will be in attendance for the dedication, along with her 13-year-old son, and 9-year-old daughter.
Crystal Beale said she was "honored" when Davis told her about the road project last month, and said she hopes today's event will be a celebration of her husband's life. "He wouldn't want us to cry and be sorrowful," she said. "He'd want us to be happy."
The military wife added that, although the past year has been painful for her, the struggle has been made easier by local residents, who have displayed their support. "Our community has ... loved on us, and has let us know they were thinking of us," she said. "We have definitely felt the love of our community. We're hurting, but we're healing."