VALDOSTA -- Don't be surprised if downtown Valdosta looks a little more like the Fourth of July the next few weeks, with red-white-and-blue ribbons and banners stretched across Main Street buildings and light posts.

Take a turn down Central Avenue and you'll see plump yellow bows blowing in the breeze, a symbol of Valdosta's commitment to support the Alpha Company's deployed troops and always remember the sacrifices they made.

Eight soldiers from the Alpha Company died this past week when roadside bombs exploded near their Humvee vehicles, leaving many wives, children and parents grieving and heartbroken.

Two Valdostans and best friends, 33-year-old Sgt. John Frank Thomas and 34-year-old Spc. Ronnie "Rod" Shelley, gave their lives fighting for freedom, the accidents occurring not even a week apart.

The Georgia Army National Guard's 48th Brigade Combat Team sent around 1,800 reservists to Iraq in January for an 18-month deployment, the largest abroad initiative since World War II.

Mayor John J. Fretti said the city will place 150 bows throughout downtown and leave them there until Alpha Company soldiers return.

Patriotic bunting will stream over City Hall's balcony, and banners will be hung on many light posts.

"This is to show unity in our community and our support for the 48th (Brigade) along with the regular military," Fretti said.

Flower Gallery employees made the bows to show community support for troops serving overseas.

Lark Russell, Flower Gallery employee, said the shop was concerned for the men and women fighting the war and deeply sympathetic for the recent loss of lives.

The yellow ribbons, Russell said, are to promote good will for military service members.

"We'll sell bows until they come home," Russell said.

Bruce Sumner, manager of Zant's Flower Shop, said tragedy has hit home and the town needs to rally behind deployed military members.

"I think we need to show support for the troops," Sumner said.

Fretti said he encourages commercial complexes, businesses and residents to purchase bows and visibly show support for soldiers and their families.

Zant's and The Flower Shop are selling the bows for $5 along with the following floral shops: Azalea City Florist Inc., Bemiss Florist and Gift Shop, Moody Air Force Base Florist, Central Floral Co., Ivy Green, Harrington Florist and Valdosta Greenhouses.

To contact Kenna Walsh call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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