Staff Sgt. Alex French IV truly loved people. And he shared that same kind of love for his country - so much he was willing to pay the ultimate price to prove it.
The 31-year-old French, a native and resident of Baldwin County, was serving as a staff sergeant in the Georgia Army National Guard when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device in southeast Afghanistan’s Khost province, near the Pakistani border. He died Sept. 30, 2009, as a result of the injuries he sustained in the explosion.
French, who was married and had three children, was the only active military serviceman from Baldwin County to be killed in the war in 2009.
During a special ceremony in front of the Veterans Memorial, located directly in front of the old Baldwin County Courthouse on the campus of Georgia College & State University, is now erected a new memorial stone that bares French’s name in recognition of his ultimate sacrifice to his country during time of war.
The new stone, which was lined up beside four similar stones at the site of the Veterans Memorial, where an eternal flames burns day and night, will pay honor to all of those killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The other stones honor other brave Baldwin County men killed in World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam.
Members of the American Legion Post 523 Color Guard presented the colors to officially get Veterans Day off in a special way Monday morning in downtown Milledgeville. Following the color presentation, the National Anthem was sung by five GC students and then the Pledge of Allegiance was recited.
Earlier, Baldwin County Commission Vice Chairman Henry Craig offered a prayer and then spoke about his service to America.
“I am a veteran, I served in the Army for 20 years,” Craig told a large audience gathered around the Veterans Memorial. “Like most veterans, I am proud of my service. And I’m proud I served my country, and I’m proud to be an American. And I’ve learned about reservation that freedom is not free. The tasks by our veterans and all those still living is more important than ever.”
Craig said veterans and those still serving in the military is what stands between them and the evil in the world - the evil that could consume the way of life for Americans.
“If you are not a veteran, you likely don’t know the commitment it takes for those courageous brave men and women who have served and who are now serving,” Craig said. “It all started for all of us with an oath. The oath is simple and direct, and has little change for decades. It states: I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. And that I will obey the president of the United States and the officers that are appointed over me, according to the regulations of the Unified Code of Military Justice, so help me, God.”
Craig also talked about the importance of the military code of conduct. He read each one of them, aloud.
He then followed with a prayer for veterans.
“Dear Lord, today, we honor our veterans, worthy men and women who gave and give their best when they were called upon to serve and protect our country,” Craig said. “We pray that you will bless them for their unselfish service and the continued struggle to preserve our freedoms, our safety, and our country’s heritage for all of us. Bless them, abundantly for the hardships they face, for the sacrifices they have made, and for their many different contributions to America’s victories over tyranny and oppression. We respect them; we thank them; we honor them; we are proud of them. We pray that you will watch over these special people and bless them with peace and happiness. Amen.”
Dr. Steve Dorman, president of GCSU, told those gathered for the special ceremony that he appreciated them being there.
“Thank you all for being here, a day in which we commemorate the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and preservation of the freedoms that we enjoy today,” Dorman said. “This occasion is particularly memorable as today is the first event of this type since we have installed the memorial stone for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the death of Staff Sgt. Alex French IV, whose name is inscribed on this stone.”
Dorman remembered French as a man who had grew up in Baldwin County and who graduated from Baldwin High School in 1996.
“And soon, thereafter, served in the Navy for four years,” Dorman said. “He then joined the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry of the Georgia Army National Guard. He was then deployed with the 48th Infantry Brigade in 2005 in support of the Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Dorman went on to describe how French later lost his life in an enemy attack.
The college president said as officials were preparing for some renovation work on he corner of the Veterans Memorial a few months ago, they thought it a good idea to update the momuments there, too.
“And I think you would agree that this whole corner is impressive,” Dorman said. “Unfortunately, as we began the construction, we discovered that we could not buy the actual monument and the plaque with state funds. That’s when Mr. Neil Dyer stepped in. I want to thank Mr. Dyer and Dyer Construction who donated and installed this new monument and plaque commemorating the loss of Sgt. Alex French IV.”
Dyer, a graduate of Georgia College and who has been in the construction business for 44 years, was asked by Dorman to come up and tell everyone what it meant to him to help bestow such an honor to Sgt. Alex French IV and his family.
Dyer explained that his project manager, John Webb, came to him one day and informed him that state funds were not available for such a monument.
Dyer said in his plain spoken way, he told Webb that won’t work.
“We need to do something,” Dyer recalled. “I said, find out what it’s going to cost, let us know. We’ll discuss it as a team and see if we can come up with the money.”
The project manager did exactly as his boss had requested that he do and provided a cost amount.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s a no brainer, we have got to do it,’” Dyer said. “The money is not available and we can certainly step up and take care of this. At that point and time, I had no idea who Sgt. French was. Since them, I’ve been able to read a good bit about him, and found out that he made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. And we’re very proud of the fact that we had a very small part to do with being able to make this memorial possible. God bless all the veterans.”
Dorman also recognized the family of Sgt. French, including his widow, his children, his parents, his sisters, his paternal grandmother, and his maternal grandparents.
Sgt. French’s widow, Shanoca French, an elementary school paraprofessional at GMC, made some public comments about the memorial that honors her late husband.
“I stand before you today to share some things with you about Alex,” Mrs. French said. “I know he (Dorman) did a fantastic job earlier. I just want to give you the meaning of Veterans Day to my family.”
Mrs. French said Alex was educated through the public school system in Baldwin County and that was how they became acquainted.
After his service in the Navy, Sgt. French was employed with the Georgia Department of Corrections and in 2001, he joined the Georgia Army National Guard. In 2003, he joined the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, and in 2005, he and Mrs. French married.
They went on to have three children. They include: Alex, Alexis, both 15 and Madison, who is 12. All three of them are cadets at GMC.
Sgt. French’s children participated in placing the memorial wreath on the new monument that honors their father.
Mrs. French said she wanted to share three points with everyone there.
“The first is to celebrate,” she said, aferwards giving the definition of the word. “Veterans Day gives Americans the opportunity to celebrate the bravery and sacrifices of all branches of the military and all the brave men and women who wear the uniform proudly. Today, Alex is being celebrated.”
Mrs. French then talked about the word, honor. She again provided its meaning.
“Today is a great day to honor the great men and women of our country, and our community,” Mrs. French said. “Today, Alex is being honored.”
Another word was remembered.
“We should remember the veterans and the sacrifices they make every day - not just today, but every day,” Mrs. French said. “The load that they carry from serving our country should not be taken lightly. When you think of veterans, please don’t forget to thank about their families, because they, too, serve. They may not be on the battlefield, but we serve on the Homefront. And we all carry a load. Today, Alex is being remembered. Our family is being remembered. And for that the French family is very grateful.”