| BROKEN STATUE – The concrete memorial statue placed in honor of fallen soldier Sgt. Dustin D. Laird of Martin sustained damage for a second time early Saturday morning. The family is once again offering a $500 reward. |
For the second time since Martin soldier Dustin Laird’s death in August 2006, a concrete memorial in his honor has been the victim of vandalism. Dustin Laird was killed in action when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Rawah, Iraq in August 2006. He was posthumously awarded the rank of sergeant.
Dustin Laird served with the 913th Engineer Co., 46th Battalion of Union City.
“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,” Father Billy Laird said on Sunday.
Billy Laird notified the Martin Police Department around 11 a.m. on Saturday after he found the small concrete soldier that rests at the family’s Adopt-A-Site in Martin broken.
Vandal(s) had apparently broken the head and one arm off of the statue.
The Laird family adopted the corner of Dustin Laird Drive and Hawks Road in Martin in 2007. Months after Dustin Laird’s death in August 2006, the City of Martin’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to rename N. Brooks Drive to Dustin Laird Drive.
A flower bed and a concrete statue in honor of Dustin Laird were put into place after the family adopted the corner.
“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,” Billy Laird commented.
In 2008, the MPD found that the concrete soldier statue at the Adopt-A-Site had been covered with red, black and green paint with skeletal depictions.
Sara Gallimore, 22, of Martin confessed to police that she had taken the statue in the middle of the night, painted it and returned it to the Adopt-A-Site location. Brandon White, 23, also of Martin was with Gallimore during the incident. Both were charged and convicted of the vandalism.
Gallimore and White claimed the act was in protest of the war. The pair was ordered by Weakley County General Sessions Court Judge Tommy Moore to pay restitution and clean the 913th Engineer Co. National Guard location in Union City as community service.
“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,” Bill 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,” Billy Laird added.
Sgt. Laird’s father said the Martin Police Department said it would work just as hard this time to bring this incident to justice.
Billy Laird offered a personal $500 reward in 2008 for information leading to the arrest of the vandals. He said he plans to once again offer the same reward.
Since his son’s death in August 2006, Billy 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 to Congress to protect veterans affairs and bring to light issues pertaining to POW/MIAs.
He plans to attend an annual Ride to the Wall in Washington, D.C. Memorial Day weekend, joining other Rolling Thunder® chapters across the nation in rally of veterans issues.
“I joined that organization to remind others that we still have two wars going on and our young men and women are dying in the Middle East every day,” he shared.
As a Patriot Guard member, Billy 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 that he said hopes to bring the families some comfort because he knows what they endure.
Although this is the second time he has reopened wounds with the vandalism of the statue in memory of his young son, Billy Laird said the vandals will not win and he plans to replace the statue after his return from Washington, D.C.
“They will no defeat us. They are not going to win. I will drive back up to Indiana after I come home from my trip to Washington and there will be another statue in its place at the site. 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,” Billy Laird said.
The statue was apparently damaged sometime after 12 a.m. Saturday morning.
There is a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s).
Persons with information are asked to contact the MPD at 587-5355 or Crime Stoppers at 587-2611.
Sgt. Laird enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard in 2000, while he was a student at Westview High School. He graduated high school in 2001.
In September 2005, he was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed in the line of duty in August 2006, approximately one month before his unit returned home.
Sgt. Laird was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the Army Good Conduct Medal.