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November 8, 2012

Berkley American Legion to build monument for fallen soldier

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

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Sarah Leach — the wife of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach, who was killed in Afghanistan in June — holds up a T-shirt at the Berkley American Legion’s Nov. 3 pub crawl, which raised funds to build a monument in her late husband’s memory.

Members of the Berkley American Legion are working to make sure that Matthew Leach will always be remembered by the local community.

Through a series of fundraisers and public donations, they are collecting money to build a monument in honor of the late Ferndale soldier, who was killed in Afghanistan this summer. The $14,000 tribute is expected to be unveiled in April 2013 in front of the Berkley American Legion Post 374 at 2079 W. 12 Mile Road, where it will serve as a comforting symbol for all those with loved ones who went off to war but never came home safely.

“There are various monuments like this across the state but none in this immediate area, and it’s about time that there was,” said American Legion member Dale GoodCourage, one of the chief organizers of the project. “This monument is really going to be one of a kind, though; it’s going to be different from every other one in the country. We’ve been working on the design for the past four months.”

The monument will be constructed by artist and sculptor Stanley J. Watts from Atlas Bronze Casting in Kearns, Utah. GoodCourage did not want to reveal too many details about the project, as he noted that some aspects of its design are meant to be a surprise.

However, the former Berkley City Councilman did say that it will consist of a fallen soldier battle cross, an American flag and a piece of granite inscribed with Leach’s name, along with the words, “For those who lay down their lives so that we may stand, you are never forgotten.” It will also feature a bench — named Jack’s Bench, after Leach’s infant son — for people to sit on when they visit the monument to pay their respects.

“There aren’t a lot of places for kids who have lost a parent in battle to go and reflect on their thoughts,” GoodCourage said. “This is meant to be a place of sanctity for people whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach died June 26 while stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The 29-year-old Ferndale resident was part of the Army Reserve’s 1/334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division based in Fraser, and this was his third combat deployment overseas.

Leach, a Class of 2000 Ferndale High School graduate, enlisted in the Army in 2003 and served until 2008, performing two tours of duty in Iraq. He then entered the Army Reserve and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Sarah, and their 11-month-old son, Jack Hunter Leach.

In August 2011, Leach was made an honorary member of the Berkley American Legion, when he served as grand marshal of the classic car parade during Berkley’s annual CruiseFest celebration.

Sarah Leach has been touched by the Legion’s efforts to honor her late husband’s memory. “They’ve really been there for us from the beginning,” she said. “I’m so grateful for everything that they’ve done for us. The whole community has just been amazing — family, friends, neighbors, strangers. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through these last few months without their support.”

She is eager to lay her eyes on the finished monument next spring, but she is even more excited for her son to get to sit on the bench that will bear his name.

“I think it will be so terrific for Jack to see this, to have one more way to connect with his dad,” she said. “If we can do something great in Matt’s name that will also help other people out, then that would make me so happy.”

The American Legion’s fundraising efforts are already well under way. Most recently, they held their first annual Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach Fall Crawl Nov. 3, a pub crawl of Berkley venues that drew about 115 participants and brought in almost $5,000.

Next up is the American Legion’s third annual pig roast Nov. 24, where guests will be asked to provide a $15 donation at the door. Anyone interested in making further contributions to the Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach Memorial Fund can call the Legion hall at (248) 542-7668.

“We have these fundraisers that we’re doing over the next few months, but it doesn’t stop there,” GoodCourage said. “We will continue to put on more events to raise money for the families and children of these fallen soldiers. We want to make sure that they have all the things they need to get by, and their sacrifices deserve to be recognized, too.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.