Cottonwood residents Homer and Sheila Spooner hold a special place in their hearts for those who have fought in the United States military.
Roughly seven years ago, the couple started recognizing veterans as a way to remember those who served in the military, and to honor a dear friend.
“We started this to honor individuals from Cottonwood, and a dear friend of ours that passed away who served in Vietnam,” said Homer Spooner. “Over the years he would share his stories with us, and one of his stories told how the soldiers were treated once they came home from serving in Vietnam. Displaying the crosses is not only a way for us to thank and honor those who served in the military, but also a way to honor our dear friend, Bobby Catrett.”
The couple began by honoring local soldiers with a series of crosses along the roadway through Cottonwood. However, over the years soldiers from across the Wiregrass area have been added.
“When we first started this, we had around 100 names of individuals we needed to honor,” said Homer Spooner. “Over the years, that number has more than tripled and lines both side of the highway.”
According to the couple, 350 to 360 crosses fill Highway 53 going through the town of Cottonwood.
“Our goal is to reach the Dothan city limit sign on Cottonwood Road,” said Spooner’s wife, Sheila. “Each year we have family members contact us about having a new cross added in memory of their loved one. To do this for those who fought for our country is something we take very seriously. You know, over the years I have watched widows come and kneel down in front of her husband’s cross and weep. To see that makes everything we do worth it.”
The crosses displayed represent a service member who died while fighting in the war or who died later. The Spooners invest several days in getting the crosses ready. The couple will spend hours retrieving the crosses from storage, followed by hours of making sure each cross is ready for display.
“It takes us a good amount of time to get the crosses displayed,” Spooner said. “We want each cross to be proudly displayed with our appreciation. We try to work it where we have the crosses displayed at least one week before Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Fourth of July. We usually leave the crosses out until one week after the holiday. Of course weather conditions do play a role if and when the crosses get displayed.”
The cross remembrance project is team effort.
“I build and paint the crosses and my wife puts the name of each soldier on the cross,” Spooner said. “Once the name is on the cross, she also displays a flag with each cross. We also have volunteers who see us displaying the crosses and ask to help, not to mention a dear friend who has helped us in years past, Jack Meadows. Next year our goal is designate each soldier who died in a war by adding a ribbon.”
According to Sheila Spooner, verifying which soldiers were killed in a war will require more detailed research, but by Memorial Day 2020, the Spooners hope to have the ribbons displayed.
Honoring members of the military is not something the Spooners do to get recognition. It is something the couple does to show their honor and respect.
“We don’t want any recognition for doing this,” Spooner said. “That is not the reason we do this. We do this so everyone will remember those who have fought for our country. Some names displayed made the ultimate sacrifice while others made sacrifices. These individuals left their families, their mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and children to fight for all of our freedom. They all deserve to be recognized for their service.”
Multiple wars are represented by the Cottonwood couple.
“We have crosses displaying the name of soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War through to the war in Afghanistan,” Spooner said.
The Spooners urge everyone traveling through Cottonwood this Veterans Day to take a moment and thank the soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.