POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — This past Sunday, the 46 victims of the Silver Bridge Disaster were remembered on the 52nd anniversary of the tragedy, with December 15, 1967 etched into the memory of many in attendance.
The annual remembrance ceremony returned to the site where the bridge formerly entered, and exited, downtown Point Pleasant at 6th and Main streets. Members of the Wahama High School Choir, under the direction of Rachel Reynolds, began the program, performing two songs.
County Commissioner Tracy Doolittle, who has also been involved with the planning of the ceremony over the years, then welcomed the crowd that had gathered.
“We appreciate your attendance as a sign of respect for all of those who lost their lives in this disaster,” Doolittle told attendees. “Their lives will never be forgotten…always remember.”
Pastor Jordan Decker then delivered the invocation.
“We come together to remember (the tragedy)…,” Decker said. “We come also to celebrate, we come to celebrate the light that was shown even in the darkness of a tragic circumstance like this, we come to celebrate the courage of the first responders and celebrate the hope and love of a community that rallied together and came back from the darkness… Even now there’s still darkness in our community, we hear the life of a Mason County Deputy that was in jeopardy, there’s still dark times so we look for hope and come together as a community to celebrate in love and to support one another and find the light in the darkness.”
Brian Billings, mayor of Point Pleasant, who like Doolittle has also been involved in the planning of the ceremony over the years, then spoke.
“I want you to pass on to those that you live with, your friends, your neighbors, and let them know what took place here,” Billings told those gathered. “Forty-six people, (from) four states, were taken. I was 10 years old…I drive through here everyday, as many of you do, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that (the tragedy).
(President) Lyndon Johnson flew over the day after to view what had happened here in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in this historic city, and things began to change. But sometimes it takes this type of thing to happen before change happens. But things started to change and for the better and hopefully lives have been saved. And with saying that, I ask you tonight as you go to bed, and you look up in the heavens and remember 46 lives, 46 stars that will shine tonight as we remember 52 years ago today what took place.”
Billings then led a prayer, asking everyone to remember those lost on the bridge and to never forget.
Jack Fowler, the director of the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center then spoke.
Fowler began his remarks by crediting Kenny Grady with starting and helping to continue the remembrance ceremony and then spoke about how the river museum has become a home for not only archival material dealing with the Silver Bridge Disaster but for those wishing to make a human connection with it. Though the museum suffered a devastating fire, Fowler assured those gathered that the archival material was safe and would be relocated to the museum’s new home, set for the 300-block of Main Street. It’s hoped construction will begin on the new facility in 2020.
“We will resume the role that we’ve played in this history,” Fowler said. “We will continue to have that (material) on display. The story will be there for people to learn from it and never forget the people that were lost…those 46 wonderful people.”
Then, what is typically considered the most solemn portion of the ceremony took place, with the reading of the names of the 46 victims. Sharing this duty were Mason County Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Dennis Zimmerman, Point Pleasant Fire Chief Jeremy Bryant and Miss 4-H Karli Stewart. While the names were read, an instrumental piece on the banjo was performed by Benjamin Supple.
Following the reading of names, the Point Pleasant High School Chamber Choir, under the direction of Ethan Bartlett, performed two songs.
The memorial Christmas tree which was placed on the lawn of the Mason County Courthouse, was then lit by Supple and his siblings, Sarah Beth, Mary and Gabriel, who are the children of Cary and Joe Supple.
Mayor Billings gave the closing remarks, recognizing the work of the committee which helps organize the ceremony, including Grady for his leadership, as well as Street Commissioner Randy Hall, City Clerk Amber Tatterson, with assistance from Randy Damron and Tracy Brown from the West Virginia Division of Highways and Carol Stevens with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Billings noted Mason County Commissioners Doolittle, Rick Handley and Sam Nibert, who were all in attendance, assisted with a reception in the courthouse in the county commission room following the evening’s program. Also in attendance to support the event, Gallia County Commissioners David Smith and Harold Montgomery.
Billings also recognized the plaque dedication portion of the program which was to follow the traditional remembrance ceremony. This portion of the program was under the direction of the ASCE, with assistance from the WVDOH and the Ohio Department of Transportation. ASCE noted the site as home to a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Plaque.
More on the plaque dedication ceremony in an upcoming edition.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.