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Local woman's work to honor soldiers stirs patriotism in others

LAWRENCEVILLE - One fall afternoon, Carolyn Buice closed the door to her home office.

She gathered her thoughts, said a prayer, then lifted the phone and dialed the first number.

Over the next several hours, the veteran's daughter made six phone calls to six families - widows and mothers of Gwinnett's fallen heroes.

"It was an emotional roller coaster. How do you call a wife and say, 'Please accept my deep condolences?'" Buice said.

But the Buford woman volunteered for the job - volunteered to speak to the families to get permission to place the names of the fallen servicemen on Gwinnett's Fallen Heroes Memorial.

"Somehow to see your loved one's name in stone, it seems like it's so final," Buice sad. "It's real. His name's here; there's no way to erase it; he's not coming home."

But somehow, the heart-breaking conversations turned into hope.

"She was an absolutely wonderful person to talk with," said Vicki Smith, a Lawrenceville woman who is mourning the death of her 21-year-old son Pfc. Brian Smith during a Marine training exercise. "You know the feeling that you've known someone your entire life. I feel like I have a special connection to her."

Her own hero

During a somber trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Savannah in January of 1993, Ron and Carolyn Buice first envisioned a memorial for Gwinnett's slain soldiers.

During the drive back, the idea expanded to include all the county workers who died in the line of duty.

The Buices knew some names that belonged on that wall - three classmates who died in Vietnam, a distant cousin who died in the Civil War and Carolyn's uncle, who was killed along with two other police officers in 1963.

But two years after dedicating the Fallen Heroes Memorial, when Carolyn Buice was making those calls to add the names of the county's newest war casualties, she was thinking of her own fallen hero, her father.

"I cut my teeth on some of Daddy's ribbons," she said, speaking of her father's World War II service. "He wasn't a recipient of a Silver Star or a Bronze Star, but he made his way through."

Richard Everett died in July 1994 in a car accident while on his way to his daughter's house.

While he died long after he left the Armed Services, the sudden death of her first hero is what Buice thought of as she made the calls.

"I was totally devastated, but I felt the warmth of love around me" from supportive friends, Buice said. "You have to repay that."

She wanted to offer that same comfort to the widows and mothers of Gwinnett's six slain servicemen.

"I asked God to give me the right words and that somehow I could bring just a touch of comfort to them," she said.

Stirring hearts

For the woman born on Veterans Day, patriotism isn't just a feeling. It's a family

tradition.

The Buices spent a decade pouring over history, researching and raising money for the memorial - almost the entire lifespan of their grandchildren Jamie and Joey Reifert, who live next door.

During the annual Memorial Day fundraiser, Jamie would often be carried in her grandfather's arms as if from a burning building, as a living statue to firefighters.

One year, Joey lied to

doctors to get out of the hospital in order to attend the ceremony.

On Sept. 11, the kids came home from school and stood in the driveway waving American flags to people driving down the road.

But Carolyn Buice hasn't just stirred patriotism in the hearts of her family.

She is inspiring a grieving mother to work for veterans.

"It does help to have the community supportive," Vicki Smith said of her own experience since her son died in June. "We need that (patriotism) in our country. She made me feel I want to be a part

of it. I don't know in what capacity.

"It's hard to go through a loss, but to have people supportive - people you don't even know - it's a wonderful feeling."