Before this year’s Arts in the Heart, as part of the Artzilla project where local artists paint together for the duration of the festival, artist Carrie Brooks decided to paint a canvas to honor Maj. Michael Donahue, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division who was assigned to Fort Gordon from 2009-2012.
Donahue was killed in action in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 16, 2014.
Brooks is the vice president of the Augusta Striders Running Club and knew Donahue, who was himself an avid runner. As the Metro Spirit previously reported, a memorial run on October 11 served as a fundraiser for a fallen soldier memorial statue the striders wanted to erect to honor their friend. Selling prints of Brooks’ work and accepting donations, the group quickly raised nearly all the of the $6,000 originally budgeted for the statue.
“I could have painted a stick figure and people would have wanted to donate,” Brooks said.
However, they ran into a roadblock when their first location, the trail head of the FATS trail system, wouldn’t accept the memorial.
“When I contacted the park ranger out there, he said that because it’s federal property, they aren’t able to do official memorial kinds of things because they get asked so often it would take away from the natural part of that park,” Brooks said.
They could possibly sponsor a bench or a shelter that could be used by runners, the park ranger said, but Brooks felt strongly that the fallen soldier monument was the most fitting tribute.
So they fell back on Plan B, which was to place the monument near the foot bridge at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, at an open spot near the flagpole.
“I’m actually thankful that it didn’t work out for it to be at FATS because I feel like more people will see it where it’s now proposed to go,” Brooks said.
Columbia County officials had a procedure in place for public monuments, and Brooks said that made the process easier. Not only did she know what would be required in terms of financial support and information, but having a set process meant she didn’t have to overcome a lot of the negativity that can come from a lack of structure.
“That’s the great thing about Columbia County having this process,” she said. “They said, ‘Sure you can do public art — you just have to fill all this stuff out.’”
In addition to the Donahue fallen soldier sculpture, the Augusta Council of Garden Clubs made a request to erect a Blue Star Memorial marker in honor of all veterans in the right of way of Ronald Reagan Drive. The county’s Monument and Public Art Committee reviewed the applications, made sure each could provide the necessary funds for the construction as well as maintenance, then approved both.
Since the program was first launched by the nonprofit National Garden Clubs, Inc., more than 2,000 Blue Star Memorials have been erected across the country. The blue stars represent the blue stars that were displayed on banners and flags across the U.S. during WWII to recognize the soldiers fighting overseas.
The fallen soldier sculpture was designed by Richard Rist, a Navy veteran who owns the Large Art Company, and Brooks, an art teacher at Lakeside, plans on using the process as a teaching aid for her students.
Though no timetable exists for the fallen soldier memorial, Brooks says she doesn’t expect it will take too long. Thanks to social media, all the questions she’s had during the process have been quickly and accurately answered.
“It just all kind of fell into place,” she said. “There was never a grand plan, but so far it’s all worked out.”