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"Love of America, love of freedom and love of life. That love never dies," said local author and surviving spouse Nicole DiCenzo, whose husband Capt. Douglas DiCenzo was killed in Baghdad, eight years ago.
It is the love that brought DiCenzo and the Families of 109 fallen service members together during Fort Benning's Survivor Outreach Services Saturday for a rededication ceremony for the newly renovated Hall of Heroes memorial.
The Hall of Heroes, located in Building 359, first opened on March 20, 2011, and contains photos of fallen service members that are mounted on the wall.
DiCenzo, who was the guest speaker for the service, said she would never forget the day two Soldiers came to her front door to deliver the news of her husband's death while stationed in Germany. It was a moment that changed her life and immediately connected her to so many Families who faced the same tragedy.
DiCenzo is the author of four books and teaches in area churches. She and her son Dak in Columbus. SOS coordinator Ron Smith said DiCenzo has been instrumental in supporting the SOS program since it began at Fort Benning.
"Not only do our lives change, but our plans change," she said. "Our future hopes change and our dreams are altered. None of you are the same people you used to be.
"We are different, we are survivors. As we rise above the pain and become someone we didn't know we could become, we survive, we change. We find our new normal."
DiCenzo said it is important that surviving Families keep the memories of their fallen loved ones alive.
"As we look at these 109 faces, we remember that each one has a story and that story has spilled over into every life they have touched," she said. "As we look at these men and women who fought and died for this country, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we also need to remember they did so out of love."
The mission of SOS is to provide enhanced services to Families through long-term care for survivors. In addition to the Hall of Heroes, SOS provides survivor education on benefits, grief support and financial counseling. The center is staffed with a support coordinator and a financial counselor.
"(Hall of Heroes) is a place of reverence and solitude that provides a place for any survivor, Family or others to come and know what appreciation we and our nation provides for them as long as they want to stay connected to the military services," Smith said.
The SOS center will present the next Hall of Heroes photo dedication ceremony at 3 p.m. June 13.