HERNANDO BEACH — Not long before he went on his last mission in July 2009, Army Spc. Justin Dean Coleman logged onto his MySpace account from Afghanistan.
He changed his mood to "sad," and wrote about his fears of being forgotten.
Shortly after, the 21-year-old Nature Coast Technical High graduate was killed in a firefight with insurgents near the Pakistan border.
On Saturday, his family and friends will come together in the place where he grew up to celebrate two gestures aimed at ensuring his memory doesn't fade.
The first is the unveiling of signs dedicating a roughly two-mile stretch of Shoal Line Boulevard, or County Road 597, as the "U.S. Army Spc. Justin Dean Coleman Memorial Highway."
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent will help lead a ceremony starting at 11 a.m. at the Coast Guard Auxiliary station, 4340 Calienta St. The memorial highway designation will extend from the station to Jewfish Drive to the south.
After that, officers at nearby VFW Post 9236 will unveil a wall memorial in Coleman's honor.
Justin's father, Dean "Al" Coleman, approached Nugent's office about naming a road after his son.
"He wasn't scared of dying but he didn't want to be forgotten," Al Coleman said. "I want people to know who he was and what he did. I felt the memorial sign would be a good way to start."
Nugent's staffers contacted County Commissioner John Druzbick, who worked with the county attorney's office and public works department to draft a resolution and make the signs.
"When the father of a fallen soldier comes to you and asks for help, you do everything you can, period," Nugent said.
Druzbick agreed. "Justin made the ultimate sacrifice, and so did his family," he said.
It only makes sense to dedicate a stretch of road in Hernando Beach, where Coleman spent most of his life, Al Coleman said.
Father and son moved there in 1990 after Al's divorce. They fished together and weathered the epic no-name storm of 1993 that flooded their canal-front rental home off Hermosa Boulevard with four feet of water.
He enlisted six months before graduating in 2007 and ended up in 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team with the 10th Mountain Division stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y. He deployed to Afghanistan in January of 2009.
His family would find out later he was killed instantly by the first shot of a would-be ambush by insurgents outside the town of Bargh-e-Matal in Nuristan province. The warning helped save the other men in his unit.
At Post 9236, officers voted unanimously to purchase miniature replicas of Coleman's medals and mount them under glass. The Purple Heart, Bronze Star and others will hang on a wall just inside the post's door along with a framed photo of Coleman in uniform.
The gesture for the family is a way to honor the VFW's motto, We honor the dead by helping the living, said Commander John DeBok.
The tears will always come more easily this time of year for Penny Rauhuff, Al Coleman's longtime girlfriend, who helped raise Justin during his teen years. First comes Memorial Day, a heart wrenching time for loved ones who have watched a flag-draped casket roll off an airplane. Then, in a summer flash, comes July 24, the anniversary of Justin's death.
"It's been a rough couple weeks," Rauhuff said. "It's still real fresh for me."
She and Coleman, who works as a mail handler in Tampa, have found solace and support in the VFW, a place they used to only visit. Al is incoming secretary of the men's auxiliary. Penny, who tends bar at the post, is incoming junior vice-president.
"We didn't know how much of a group of family we are and how many other people are out there just like us," Rauhuff said.
Four members of Coleman's unit are expected to attend the ceremonies Saturday. These are some of the men who insisted on carrying Coleman onto the helicopter the day he was shot. The men who wondered what kind of reception he got when he returned home. The men who were impressed when they saw photos of the people who lined Hernando County roads as Coleman's hearse traveled from a Spring Hill funeral home to the Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell.
"It was like they were relieved that he did get a hero's welcome, and that's why they want to be a part of this," Rauhuff said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.