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Soldier’s statue vandalized again

Soldier’s statue vandalized again

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2010 9:07 pm

For the second time since Martin soldier Dustin Laird’s death in August 2006, a statue in his memory has been vandalized.
Laird — who served with the Union City-based 913th Engineer Co. of the Tennessee Army National Guard — was killed in action when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle in Rawah, Iraq, while he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Army Good Conduct Medal, as well as given the rank of sergeant.
Laird’s father, Billy Laird of Martin, contacted the Martin Police Department shortly before noon Saturday to report the vandalism of the statue, which is placed at the corner of Dustin Laird Drive and Hawks Road in Martin.
Laird told police the statue was untouched when he visited the location about 3 p.m. Friday, but he returned about 11:30 a.m. Saturday to find the statue knocked down and its head and arm  broken off, according to a police report.
The statue will cost about $250 to replace, Laird told police.
The Laird family adopted the site at the corner of Dustin Laird Drive and Hawks Road in 2007 and a flower bed and a concrete statue were placed there. A few months after the soldier’s death, Martin’s mayor and board of aldermen had voted unanimously to rename North Brooks Drive to Dustin Laird Drive.
“Whoever did this the first time had the misconception that this memorial was in honor of or somehow condoning the war. Whoever did it this time has that same misconception,” Laird said Sunday.
“That statue was put into place in memory of my son, a 23-year-old Martin native, who gave his life so that people could keep their freedoms. They do have the right to protest the war, but they do not have the right to do this,” he added.
In 2008, Martin police found that the concrete soldier statue had been covered with paint with skeletal depictions. Sara Gallimore, 22, of Martin later confessed to police that she had taken the statue in the middle of the night, painted it and returned it to its location. She and Brandon White, 23, also of Martin, who reportedly was with her, were both charged and convicted in the vandalism.
Ms. Gallimore and White claimed the act was in protest of the war. They were later ordered by Weakley County General Sessions Court Judge Tommy Moore to pay restitution and clean the 913th Engineer Co. headquarters in Union City as community service.
Laird said the Martin Police Department will work just as hard this time to bring this incident to a just conclusion. He personally offered a $500 reward in 2008 for information leading to the arrest of the vandals and said he plans to offer the same reward for the most recent vandalism.
Anyone who has information about the vandalism is asked to contact the Martin Police Department at (731) 587-5355 or Martin Crime Stoppers at (731) 587-2611.
“This act would be like someone going to the cemetery and destroying a tombstone. If I went to a family member’s graveside of whoever did this and destroyed their monument or tombstone, they would feel the same way I do right now. It’s personal,” Laird said.
“I am sure that whoever did this has a family member that is serving or has served in the military. I hope this person has to look a veteran in the face some day and tell them what they have done,” he added.
Since his son’s death in August 2006, Laird joined the Rolling Thunder TN Chapter 6 organization, as well as the Patriot Guard. Rolling Thunder is a national, non-profit organization that lobbies Congress to protect veterans’ affairs and bring to light issues pertaining to POWs/MIAs. He plans to attend an annual “Ride to the Wall” in Washington, D.C., Memorial Day weekend.
As a Patriot Guard member, Laird has offered more than 50 concrete statues to families of fallen men and women as a token of personal appreciation for their sacrifice. The concrete statue depicts Jesus hugging a G.I., a gesture he said he hopes brings comfort to the families.
Laird said he plans to replace the local statue after he returns home from Washington.
“They will not defeat us. They are not going to win,” he said.
“This should not be called vandalism. This was personal and this should be considered a hate crime. When someone protests the war, that’s different. When someone comes onto that site and deliberately destroys that statue, it’s hurtful to my family and it is a slap in the face to every veteran and service member out there.”
Published in The Messenger 5.24.10

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