By Brad Hicks

Representatives from local first responder agencies were recognized during the inaugural Patriot Day service. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Hundreds of Unicoi Countians gathered on Monday, Sept. 11, to give a collective “thank you” to the local men and women who face dangerous situations daily to ensure the safety of the county’s citizenry.

A ceremony to honor Unicoi County’s first responders was held Monday in the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The evening featured music, recognitions, proclamations, prayers, and a special message from Randy Kington, a Marine Corps veteran paralyzed during the Vietnam War.

During the inaugural Patriot Day service, local first responders in attendance were asked to stand to receive a round of applause. The agencies recognized were the Erwin Police Department, Erwin Fire Department, Limestone Cove Volunteer Fire Department, MedicOne Medical Response, Southside Volunteer Fire Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Unaka Mountain Search & Rescue, Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, Unicoi County 911, and Unicoi County Emergency Management.

The leaders of each of the recognized agencies were called to the auditorium stage where each received a copy of a proclamation presented during Monday’s ceremony by State Sen. Rusty Crowe and a U.S. Flag that had flow over the state capitol in Nashville.

The proclamation, which was previously passed by state legislators, in part read: “Outstanding in the line of duty, Unicoi County first responders are citizens of whom the Volunteer State is most proud, and they should be recognized for their professionalism and compassion in the face of danger.”

“Let’s never forget the sacrifices that our first responders and our military have made for us and will continue to make,” Crowe said. “The way the world is today, we’re going to need them more than ever.”

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch also presented a county proclamation to name Sept. 11, 2017, as “First Responders Day” in Unicoi County.

“I encourage all members of our communities to observe this occasion by praying for the safety and well-being of those men and women of our county and our country who are proud to call themselves first responders and remember them each day,” Lynch said.

Kington, a Tennessee native who fought during Vietnam during 1965-66, discussed what he considers the three “difference makers” in his life – his country, his wife Patty, who he met in a Memphis veterans’ hospital several months after the March 21, 1966, gunshot that left him paralyzed from the chest down, and God.

“I can think of no better topic to talk about tonight than to make a difference, to be a difference maker,” Kington said. “Next to the hand of God, the greatness of this community, the greatness of America, has always rested upon the sacrifices of so many difference makers. Those sacrifices, each and every one of them, were made for you and me. And because for over 241 years firemen, policemen, emergency workers, military men and women have been willing to make a difference, no matter what it costs, tonight, each one of us here is safe and secure.”

A special recognition was devoted to the surviving members of the Erwin Nine, a group of nine Erwin natives who joined the Air Corps during World War II and were all assigned to different planes, yet ended up in the same German prison camp. Each of the men returned home following his liberation.

Cases containing a new Erwin Nine logo, recently designed by Johnnie Watson, were presented to Erwin Nine member George Hatcher and representatives of the families of Dick Franklin, who is currently at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, and Stan Norris, who is believed to be alive and residing in Alabama.

One of the cases was also presented to Lynch for display in the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Music during Monday’s ceremony was provided by soloists Larry Pate, Alan Foster and Jonathan Huff, as well as the Community Choir. Songs performed included “God Bless America,” “Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless the U.S.A,” and “Let Freedom Ring.”

Monday’s first-ever Patriot Day service was sponsored by churches across Unicoi County and made possible by scores of area businesses, organizations and individuals.