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Bicentennial tree commemorates fallen soldiers

Countless soldiers have fallen in the line of duty, but one battle stands out in history and in Franklin County: the Battle of Meuse-Argonne. It took place in 1918 during World War I and is known as the largest in U.S. military history and deadliest in American history. A total of 21 men from Franklin County gave their lives during this battle.

In 1919 the president of France gave the state of Alabama 10 trees from the forest where the battle took place, to recognize their service. Franklin County received one of those trees, and it was planted in downtown Russellville at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Lawrence Street. The ceremonial tree planting was held April 23, 1919.

Now, 200 years later, during the state of Alabama’s bicentennial and the City of Russellville’s bicentennial – and just following last year’s celebration of Franklin County’s bicentennial –another ceremonial tree is honoring this history.

April 23 a crowd gathered outside of the Franklin County Archives to witness and take part in the planting of the “victory oak” and the revealing of the historical monument alongside it.

“I’ve been working on this one ceremony for over a year,” said Bicentennial Committeee Chairperson Chris Ozbirn. “Everyone I’ve asked for help for this day, not a one of them turned me down.”

Bert Fowler delivered the invocation. The Tuscumbia Honor Guard did the posting and retrieving of the colors. Don Johnson led the pledge of allegiance, and Tommy Quinn performed the National Anthem.

Russellville Mayor David Grissom shared the history of the “victory oak” tree, and Probate Judge Barry Moore delivered a speech recognizing the fallen Franklin County soldiers.

“This oak tree is here for the generations that went to war so we have this freedom today,” Moore said. “This tree will be a reminder to future generations that come and visit the archives, what this actually means.”

Ozbirn, Moore, Grissom, Hodges Mayor Joyce Saad and Dwayne Raper scooped the first ceremonial shovelfuls of mulch around the tree before the Boy Scouts unveiled the historical marker in front of it.

Bicentennial celebrations will continue throughout the year until the final event in November.