GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH A flag bearing the name of every person killed in the 9/11 attacks is pulled away to reveal a sign naming for Staff Sergeant Alex French IV the Milledgeville street on which he grew up Friday afternoon. French was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the Army National Guard's 48th Brigade. After the ceremony, fellow soldiers remembered a tireless and competent comrade while people he grew up with remembered a boy with a great sense of humor who hosted the neighborhood basketball games.
South of town on the outskirts of Milledgeville, east of the Culver Kidd Parkway and just west of the railroad tracks that run toward Gordon, there used to be a street called Loretta Drive.
Alex French IV, a Navy sailor who later became a sheriff’s deputy, a soldier and a father of twin daughters and a son, grew up there. He loved watching “He-Man” and “Popeye” cartoons, playing cowboys and Indians.
“I was always the Indian,” said his sister, LaToya, who was 11 months younger.
She still lives in their childhood home in the Harrisburg community near Hardwick. But the place isn’t on Loretta Drive anymore. The address is now 106 Alex French Drive.
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French, a Georgia National Guardsman, died in the war in Afghanistan a couple of years ago. He was 31. To honor him, the street he grew up on now bears his name.
There was a ceremony to mark the occasion Friday, but the new street sign has been up for weeks. LaToya French was headed home the first time she saw her brother’s name on it.
“It gave me a sense of pride,” she said.
Alex French Drive more or less parallels the busier Allen Memorial Drive to the north, a thoroughfare named in the 1930s for a beloved Baldwin County doctor who founded Allen’s Invalid Home and was the grandfather of a noted jazz historian, the late Dick Allen.
“He had always said he wanted to do something to change Milledgeville,” LaToya French, 33, said of her fallen brother. “I guess getting his name on that sign is a sense of changing it. ... It makes you feel good.”
Among those who gathered to mark the occasion Friday was David Neal, a fellow soldier from the 48th Infantry Brigade.
Neal was with French in a convoy when the roadside bomb that killed French exploded. Neal pulled French from the blast wreckage.
Recalling the scene from September 2009, Neal choked up.
Then he said, “It’s a good thing today, to put it all to bed, memorialize him forever.”
Quentin T. Howell, a former Navy man himself who grew up in French’s neighborhood, remembered waiting with French -- sometimes on the coldest of mornings -- to catch the school bus along the street now named for French.
“When you ride by and you see the sign,” Howell said, “it gives you that great sense of overwhelming pride that this is not just somebody who served in our military, who died for our country. ... It’s one of our own.”
Telegraph staff photographer Grant Blankenship contributed to this story. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.