By Lisa Whaley

Unicoi County’s first-ever Patriot’s Day Service has been a long time coming, organizers say.

But now, as the Sept. 11 tribute honoring local first responders grows closer, there is also a strong feeling that the event’s timing could not have been better.

“I work day to day with most of the first responders and I see the things that they encounter,” said Debbie Tittle, Uncoi County’s register of deeds and a volunteer with the event. “I know that they put their lives on the line every day.

“It’s a changing world and Unicoi is no exception. They need to know that they are appreciated for their jobs, as individuals, for what they do to help us and protect us and for always being there. They need to hear that, especially in these times.”

The Patriot’s Day event actually got its start just a couple of months ago, according to Steve Rice, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church and one of the key organizers of the event — during a simple conversation about the value of first responders that quickly grew into a desire to create some type of a tribute.

Sponsored by the churches of Unicoi County – as well as a host of community organizations and volunteers – the event is set for Monday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Unicoi County High School, and will feature uplifting music, inspiring speeches and proclamations and the chance to say “thank you” to the men and women who help keep Unicoi County safe.

“Our first responders, they take a great risk,” Rice said, noting that every day can be a Sept. 11 for a first responder. “We want to let them know that we value them here. Certainly, we have our differences, but we all agree on how we feel about our first responders.”

Rice is also convinced the Sept. 11 tribute is going to be an a not-to-be-missed special occasion for the county.

Music will include everything from “God Bless America” by the Community Choir to individual  musical works by soloists Larry Pate, Alan Foster and Johnathan Huff.

Pastors will be on hand to provide prayers, words of encouragement and special recognition. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch and State Senator Rusty Crowe are also slated to present special proclamations honoring first responders.

The guest speaker will be Randy Kington, who fought in Vietnam during 1965–66, was awarded 11 ribbons and six medals and now travels the nation sharing his inspirational story.

There will even be a moment of recognition for the Erwin Nine, the group World War II soldiers from Erwin who were assigned to different  bombers, shot down at different times and yet ended up at – and survived from — the same prisoner of war camp.

Of course, first and foremost, the event is one of honor.

A special first responders’ reception is set for 5:30 p.m. in the UCHS cafeteria where first responders and their families will be treated to a light meal, a chance to meet guest speaker Kington and sign up for door prizes that will be given out at the Tribute.

“We just want to say, “Thank you. Thank you.,” Rice said. “The bottom line is this is just a way to show a tangible appreciation for what first responders do. And to show that from the south end to the north end of the county, we are united in this.”

For more information or to volunteer, call 330-9334.