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Georgia Army bases Warriors Walk running out of room to honor fallen troops
 Warriors Walk NY11 6670153
A 3rd Infantry Division honor guard presented the colors for a memorial ceremony on Warriors Walk Thursday Jan. 25, 2007 during the ceremony at Fort Stewart, GA. commemorating Staff Sgt. John L. Hartman Jr., who was killed in Iraq Nov. 30. Fort Stewart has planted a tree here for every member of the 3rd Infantry Division to die in the war, as well as for soldiers from other Army posts killed while serving with the division. - photo by Associated Press
FORT STEWART, Ga. — The sergeant major calls the name, Staff Sgt. John L. Hartman Jr., as it’s unveiled on a granite marker at the root of a new eastern redbud tree on Warriors Walk — where hundreds of these living memorials have been planted to honor the wartime dead.
    Hartman volunteered for a third tour in Iraq last year so an Army buddy could stay home with his newborn son. He was killed Nov. 30 when a bomb blast tore into his Humvee.
    Last week, Hartman became the 318th soldier memorialized at Warriors Walk, a grove of eastern redbuds started with 34 trees in April 2003.
    Fort Stewart has planted a tree here for every member of the 3rd Infantry Division to die in the war, as well as for soldiers from other Army posts killed while serving with the division.
    Jeff Fornshell, the post’s ceremonies coordinator, said he wonders how many trees he’ll have to plant this year. Expanded twice since its inception, Warriors Walk has room for only 72 more trees.
    ‘‘Is 72 going to be enough? I hope it is,’’ Fornshell said. ‘‘I hope we don’t put any more out here. You’re all the time thinking you don’t want to have a new tree dedication.’’
    Earlier this month, the 3rd Infantry began deploying its 19,000 troops for a third tour in Iraq. Hartman went separately from the division last year as an instructor training Iraqi security forces.
    At least 3,069 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. More than 10 percent are represented at Warriors Walk, which exhibits the war’s cost in a way that’s staggering in scale yet also intensely personal.
    The trees already line both sides of two paved walkways flanking Fort Stewart’s parade grounds, stretching nearly the length of three football fields. A third walkway had to be poured last year to start a new row.
    Fornshell said he never expected Warriors Walk would grow so much when the first tree was planted. The 3rd Infantry lost 42 soldiers during the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Trees honoring those soldiers were planted in single-file rows, about 13 feet apart.
    But the division’s second tour in 2005, when its troops faced shadowy insurgents rather than a stand-up army, proved more costly. The 3rd Infantry suffered 105 deaths, not counting those among supporting units. A second walkway of memorial redbuds had to be started.
    The expansion encroached slightly on the Army post’s golf course. The tree for Staff Sgt. Jens E. Schelbert was planted less than a foot from the greener grass of the teeing area for the No. 5 hole.
    Birgit Smith of Holiday, Fla., has watched Warriors Walk grow during visits four times a year since her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, was killed April 4, 2003. Credited with saving dozens of American lives by holding off Iraqi forces with a machine gun before he was killed at the Baghdad airport, Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2005.
    ‘‘When I first returned to Fort Stewart to visit the tree, the walk seemed so far to get to Paul’s tree,’’ Smith said. ‘‘And now it seems so short because there are so many more trees.’’
    Smith said she likes to leave a single red rose when visiting her husband’s tree. At the foot of the other living memorials lie dozens of mementos — toy soldiers, angel figurines, wind chimes, whiskey bottles, garden gnomes and laminated photos that personalize each.
    Two unopened bottles of Corona Extra beer stand next to the tree dedicated to Spc. Joseph A. Lucas. Nearby, someone placed five golf balls at the tree for Staff Sgt. Chad M. Mercer. A Hawaiian lei circles the granite tree marker for Spc. Derence W. Jack.
    As curator of the Fort Stewart Museum, Walter Meeks III has collected more than 400 such mementos from Warriors Walk since the war began. Some are displayed at the museum, while most are in storage.
    ‘‘It’s a sobering duty,’’ Meeks said. ‘‘It’s a beautiful monument, but it represents a great deal of grief and loss for the community. It’s definitely not a walk in the park.’’
    Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry, knelt and touched his fingers to Hartman’s granite stone following its unveiling ceremony, where Lynch praised the 39-year-old for his service.
    ‘‘We routinely come to this hallowed place to remember our fallen comrades,’’ Lynch said. ‘‘And it strengthens our resolve to continue as a nation, in their memory, to fight this global war on terrorism.’’
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