By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetOctober 15, 2009
FORT BENNING, GA - David Hoover, 14, remembers the night the historic Office of the Staff Judge Advocate's building, the second- oldest building on Fort Benning, burned to the ground. His family lived blocks away from Building 5 and used to drive past it everyday. But the night of Feb. 6 the building was engulfed in flames and the next morning only a shell was left. A tall privacy fence was erected on the site and remained for several months as clean-up crews worked to remove debris.
"When they took the fence down, it was nothing but an empty lot," David said. "I could barely remember there was once a building there, and it made me sad."
This prompted David, a senior patrol leader with Boy Scout Troop 27, to find a way to use the space as part of his Eagle Scout project. David wanted to ensure the historic building, which once held court over the famous "United States v. Calley" trial and served as a home away from home for many OSJA workers, would never be forgotten.
Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America and to earn the distinction, Scouts must complete a community service project, among other requirements.
With the help of COL Tracy Barnes, chief of SJA; COL Thomas Macdonald, garrison commander; Ed Howard, historic preservation specialist; and Bill Spires, a project coordinator, David was able to make his vision come true.
A memorial garden now sits on the northeast corner of the lot. It was completed at the end of August. The garden sits on one-tenth of an acre and includes azalea bushes, hydrangeas, a dogwood tree and a redbud tree because "they are durable and friendly looking," David said.
Although sod had been planted, David and a group of volunteers planted grass where the sod had eroded and brought in three benches for visitors. The finishing touch was the placement of four plaques, each facing a represented direction, capturing the history of the post. The sign facing north informs visitors about the land's original owner, Arthur Bussey, a farmer who started a creamery for his plantation dairy in the original Building 5. Two signs facing south discuss the history of Building 5 and its many uses throughout the years. The sign facing east gives the history of Riverside, the summer home of the Busseys.
Hoover, a freshman at Columbus High School, said he feels the project has been a success.
"A lot of the JAG workers were really happy about the garden," he said. "Building 5 was a nice place for them to work."
Hoover's dad, Chaplain (MAJ) Doug Hoover, a family life chaplain, said he feels David's project may bring closure to those who worked in Building 5 and lost so much in the fire.
"There is something there to remember it by, it won't just go away and be an empty field," he said. "I hope it brings a little closure for the folks who worked there, many of whom came out to work on the project with David."
David is not the only Troop 27 Scout who has completed an eagle project on Fort Benning recently.
Matt Zollinger, 14, collaborated with the principal of Edward A. White Elementary School, Glenn Hughes, and the school's volunteer gardener, Owen Ditchfield, a retired media specialist, to create a fence for the school's vegetable garden as part of his Eagle Scout project. The garden is tended by Ditchfield and the school's second-graders as part of a project to learn about gardening. However, the garden is next to a playground area.
Zollinger said he came up with the idea to fence in the garden after talking with his younger brother, Joseph, a fifth-grader at the school.
The fence is designed to protect the vegetables from being trampled by children or being eaten by animals such as deer, David said.
Though the project took months to plan, design and approve, the actual work took only three days.
"Installing the fence was a tedious process," said Matt, who currently serves as a patrol leader in his troop. "Even with 11 people, painting 403 pickets is not an easy task."
The tightly packed fence now leaves no room for even the smallest critter to enter without the gardener's say-so.
"This project has taught me to be a better citizen," Matt said. "It's shown me what you can do outside of videogames and computers. It feels good to help somebody out and do something for the neighborhood."
Matt's parents, LTC Todd and Leigh Zollinger, said they were impressed by their son's tenacity to get the project done.
"It was a big undertaking, bigger than we realized," Leigh said. "He had to take ownership of the project, manage it and follow through. We are very proud of him."
Both of the Boy Scouts still have a few more requirements to fulfill before they can reach the eagle court of honor, but in the meantime, they will continue to visit their accomplishments.
"Even though the memorial garden was finished a month and a half ago, I still go down and water some of the plants that haven't rooted in yet," David said.
And Matt is already planning "a second coat of paint for the white picket fence."