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Honoring Fallen Soldiers

Georgia to honor its fallen soldiers
By Dick Pettys ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA – Flags on public buildings will be lowered to half-staff and clergymen from different faiths will lead a Capitol memorial service today as Georgia pays tribute to its service members who have died in Iraq. Four more have been killed since Gov. Sonny Perdue first announced plans for the memorial.

Spc. Michael Stokely, 23, of Loganville, a member of the Georgia National Guard\’s 48th Brigade, was killed early Tuesday morning after he stepped on an improvised explosive device, said his wife, Niki. ***Michael was a student at Georgia Military College in 2002.***

Monday, three members of a Douglasville-based detachment were killed when their vehicle overturned during combat operations in south Baghdad. The Pentagon identified them as Sgt. Thomas Strickland, 27, of Douglasville; Spc. Joshua Dingler, 19, of Hiram and 21-year-old Sgt. Paul Saylor of Norcross.

The most recent deaths bring the unit\’s losses to 16 since it deployed to Iraq in June

Perdue tearfully called for the vigil and moment of silence two weeks ago after the 48th Brigade suffered losses for the third time in 10 days.

At 1 p.m., the hour set for the moment of silence, the fallen will be remembered during a prayer service in the Capitol. At about the same time, members of the 48th will participate in the observance in Iraq.

Georgia Public Broadcasting will provide live television feeds of the ceremony to stations across the state.

Perdue previously has called on Georgians to pause at 1 p.m. to pay homage to the fallen. Wednesday, he signed an executive order directing flags to be flown at half-staff on all state buildings and grounds to honor not only the fallen but those who continue to serve in the Middle East.

In an emotional news conference Aug. 4, Perdue called for the state to pay tribute to the fallen servicemen.

\”These most recent deaths fall especially close to home because they are members of our citizen-soldier brigade. They live next door. They\’re our neighbors. They\’re part of the community,\” he said, his voice choked with emotion and his eyes brimming with tears.

The prayer service is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., and will include prayers by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergymen. A bagpiper will play \”Amazing Grace.\”

Capitol police said they expect that an extremist religious group from Topeka, Kan., which has picketed similar memorial services for soldiers, will demonstrate on the Capitol sidewalks.

\”We\’re going to make sure nobody gets hurt and everybody gets a chance to express their freedom of speech,\” said state patrol Capt. Al Wilson, director of the Capitol police department.