Heroes get special tribute
SOUTH POINT – Betty Church twisted a white Kleenex over and over in her hands, sometimes touching it to her wet eyes yet never giving way to those tears as others paid tribute to the son whose memory she wants never to die.
Theodore Ullum “Tuc” Church was killed in Iraq on Memorial Day 2007 when the helicopter he was piloting was shot down. He was only 32 years old.
On Friday his family and friends stood along County Road 1 in Burlington as the county dedicated a bridge to always be known as the Theodore Ullum Church Memorial Bridge.
Lawrence County Commission President Bill Pratt began the ceremony by calling Church “a war hero.”
He praised Betty for her persistence in getting this memorial.
“She wouldn’t let it die for her son,” Pratt said.
Then the commissioner asked those gathered if they would share their memories of Church.
First to speak was his mother-in-law, Marcinda Mers.
“He was the epitome of an American soldier,” Mers said, “and the epitome of a husband to my daughter. I could never ask for anyone better.”
Then Commissioner Les Boggs praised Church and every American soldier.
“Every single soldier has given something,” Boggs said. “Some have given their lives. This is not just for him and his family but for every soldier serving in every war, their bravery and courage demonstrated.”
Following Commissioner Freddie Hayes’ reading of the poem “To Honor Our Fallen,” members of Church’s family pulled the white wrapper off the sign, while Betty cradled a photograph of Church.
About an hour later there was a similar gathering on County Road 59 at the bridge going over Big Branch Creek for another fallen hero. This time it was Donald Ray Blankenship who died on July 7, 1968, at the age of 19 in Vietnam.
First Blankenship’s high school buddy, Jimmy Moore, introduced fellow Vietnam veterans and those who graduated in the Class of 1966 from South Point High School with Blankenship.
Those coming forward were Frank Chapman, David Sark, Billy Fields, Steve Dick, Jay Elam, Mike Stapleton, Mike Firebaugh and Glen Adkins.
Then Moore introduced the members of Blankenship’s family, sisters, Bonnie Fields and Sabrina Smithers, brother, Philip Blankenship, and daughter Sarah Carver.
Again, the white wrapper covering the sign was removed as the family posed for photographs taken by the crowd. As they walked away, they took another glance at the memorial to their brother and father.
“I am proud to be his daughter,” Carver said. “My grandmother and I used to cross this bridge every Sunday on our way to church. It brings back a lot of memories.”
(Editor’s note: To read more about these two heroes, see the Veterans Day insert in today’s Tribune)