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Vandals damage teens military memorial
A-Memorial pic1
Zachary Puerto kneels beside the military memorial that he built and is on display in his front yard. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson County News

A local teen will not let disrespect by a chosen few detour him from supporting American servicemen and women.

Instead Zachary Puerto, 13, shifted his focus to repairing the military memorial he and his father erected in their front yard on Hwy. 9 North in Dawsonville after the tribute was recently vandalized.

"It really upset me and disappointed me that someone would do that," he said. "I built this to honor soldiers who served in the war and have died for our freedom."

Puerto used an airsoft helmet, toy rifle and a pair of his dad's old boots to construct the memorial, which shows the shadow of kneeling soldier beneath an American flag.

His father, Mauricio, was sitting on the front porch on a recent Friday night when a carload of what appeared to be teens tossed items at the memorial.

"When we got up that morning and saw the damage ... I just couldn't believe someone would do that," Mauricio Puerto said. "We have it taped up with electrical tape, but they broke one of the feet off the cutout."

He said he is proud of his son, who built the tribute over the Memorial Day weekend.

"I try to teach the kids that it's not just about going to the lake and hanging out, and that the Fourth of July is not just about fireworks," he said. "That it's about the price that people pay for us to be able to do those things and the sacrifices that they've made."

The memorial has become a focal point for veterans in the area and those passing by the Puerto home.

"Zachary and his friends ... who live down the street and helped build the monument, have got to meet a lot of veterans, who have stopped by," Mauricio Puerto said.

The Puertos also recently learned they share a more personal connection with servicemen and women than they originally thought.

"My father, who passed away when I was three, had served in the Korean War. I just thought it was amazing that I'm teaching him to appreciate the vets and I had no clue that my father was one," Mauricio Puerto said.