Three patriotic balloons waved gently in the morning breeze, drawing attention to the newly installed sign on the Maryland 140 bridge. The sign, emblazoned with the name of fallen Marine Staff Sgt. James M. Malachowski, was erected Wednesday and dedicated by his friends and family Sunday morning.
"He would have been embarrassed, but he'd also be proud. It would have meant a lot to him," said Malachowski's father, Jim.
According to Maryland Department of Transportation spokesperson Teri Moss, Malachowski's family filed an application with the department to erect a memorial sign.
The application requires statements of support from the county legislature and an elected official. The transportation commission then makes a recommendation to the secretary of transportation. If approved, the State Highway Administration installs the sign.
"Thousands of people go over this bridge every day. We know Jimmy will not be forgotten," said Malachowski's mother, Alison.
During the dedication, Alison Malachowski read her son's many accomplishments and remembered him as a "life size action figure."
Malachowski, of Hampstead, was an infantry rifleman who served three combat tours from 2004 to 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a combat marksmanship coach and primary marksmanship instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. He was also a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team.
In 2010, Malachowski was reassigned as a platoon sergeant for 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines and was deployed to Marjah, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In March 2011, while clearing a building to establish a security control base in the village, he was killed after he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He was 25.
State Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, attended the ceremony and said he hopes the sign encourages passersby to research Malachowski's achievements.
"We owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude," Ready said. "He's not just a Carroll County hero but an American hero."
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said he was thrilled to help dedicate the sign.
"I knew James when he was in high school," Weaver said. "Thousands of people cross this bridge, and they will all see his name. He will never be forgotten."
Joshua and April Long, of Hampstead, said they had both known Malachowski since kindergarten.
"He's here with us today, and he's watching over us. He was such a special person," April Long said.
"I think he would be extremely honored," added Joshua Long.
Nate Rill, of Union Mills, graduated with Malachowski before he left for the Marines.
"One of the last things he said is that he wanted to be remembered. This is a great way to do it," Rill said.
Michelle Massey, of Baltimore, said she had known Malachowski since middle school.
"I know this means a lot to the family," Massey said.
Michelle's husband, Josh Massey, said he only met Malachowski a handful of times but said, "It's fitting that perhaps the most beautiful bridge in Carroll County is dedicated to Jimmy."
Joe Freyman, of Hampstead, said the dedication meant a lot to him.
"There will probably be a tear in my eye every time I drive by," Freyman said.
Ryan Hotaling, of Nottingham, said Malachowski was his first best friend.
"I don't have the words to express the gratitude for what he did for us and his country," Hotaling said. "He was definitely a great man and great Marine."
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