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Tears well for departing local troops

Dan Wilson walked away from the Harold W. Johnson National Guard Armory like a lot of other people. The single-digit temperatures couldn’t stop his tears.

On a morning when no reasonable soul should have stepped outside the heat of a home, hundreds upon hundreds of Demopolis citizens crammed into the Armory to laugh, cry and hug together.

The Demopolis 167th Engineers &045;&045; Bridge Assault Unit departed on Friday for a 365-day deployment to a destination unknown. More than 25 trucks filled with citizens from the city and surrounding communities were scheduled to arrive in Fort Benning, Ga., later Friday afternoon. And in a week, that same unit could be deployed somewhere else.

During a ceremony filled with notaries and simple citizens, the Demopolis unit of the Army National Guard said one last good-bye. They appeared in formation and listened as a variety of speakers thanked them for their service and prayed for their safe return.

But World War II didn’t end the struggle for peace across the world, Caldwell said.

Caldwell began what developed into an array of heart-warming and tear-jerking salutes to the men and women from Marengo and surrounding counties.

Maybe the hardest part &045;&045; in terms of emotion &045;&045; came when Cpt. Jeffery M. Smith, commander of the Demopolis unit, pledge his concern for both the troops and their families.

Smith struggled through those final words, choking back tears just before he walked back into formation to lead his company.

Adjutant Gen. C. Mark Bowen made things a little easier. Bowen was appointed head of the entire Alabama National Guard upon Gov. Bob Riley’s inauguration, and Bowen ensured families that they would be taken care of.

Bowen then held to a tradition he has used in other send-offs. He helped lead the singing of "God Bless America," and asked that one last prayer be said for the troops.