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A salute for a 'heroic' friend

Staff Sgt. Jason Alan Benford died heroically in Iraq in 2005, said his friend, Staff Sgt. Adam Haden Jr.

Benford sacrificed his own life to spare that of another soldier, Haden said, and for that the 30-year-old member of Fort Benning's 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment received a hero's decoration, the Bronze Star, and a hero's burial at Parkhill Cemetery on Macon Road.

Haden, 36, said he visits his friend and brother-in-arms every chance he gets.

And so Haden stood over Benford's grave Monday morning, tearful as the melancholy sounds of a nearby Memorial Day ceremony drifted down the hill.

The service, hosted by the Coweta Falls Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, began at 10 a.m. and ran about one hour. Fort Benning also held a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday.

At Parkhill Cemetery, more than 100 people listened as prayers were said and speeches were given. They watched as members of Russell County High School's JROTC Honor Guard set a "remembrance table" in honor of prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action. Some audience members cried. Some smiled. All remembered the men and women who had fought and died for their country.

Dressed in a colonial-era costume, 24-year-old Charles Hall of the Sons of the American Revolution handed out programs and participated in posting and retiring the colors at the ceremony's beginning and end. Hall said the organization strives to keep the history of the American Revolution alive.

"We do celebrations like this," said Hall, the descendent of a ship's captain who fought in North Carolina in support of the Revolutionary war. "We also do programs and projects that talk about various American Revolutionary activities."

Haden stood alone and apart from the Memorial Day congregation, his only movement coming at the very end of the service as taps played low and slow over a portable stereo. Hand to brow, the infantry soldier dressed in green delivered a textbook salute. Just down the hill, two American flags, a tattered Ohio State Buckeyes pennant and a dog tag belonging to Staff Sgt. Jason Alan Benford blew in the breeze, as if in response to Haden's gesture.