Smith participates in memorial unveiling

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2006

RALEIGH – As an employee with the North Carolina Forest Service in Hertford County, Chris Smith has experienced only a few incidents that have sent goosebumps up and down his tall, lanky frame.

This past Saturday in Raleigh prove as one of those times where Smith felt the hair stand straight up on his arms.

There, Smith filled the role of an escort for family members of state Forest Service personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those killed in the line of duty.

Smith, Hertford County’s Assistant Forest Ranger, participated in the unveiling of the Fallen Firefighter Memorial. The memorial, a bronze, life-sized sculpture depicting firefighters working to save a fallen comrade, lists the 163 names of those lost in the line of duty.

Those names include the late Frank Winslow, the former Aulander Fire Chief killed Jan. 20, 1988 in a motor vehicle accident while responding to a call.

Smith volunteered to participate, saying it was a privilege for him to pay respect to his fallen Forest Service comrades. Of the 163 names on the memorial, 18 are Forest Service personnel.

“It was an honor for me to learn more about these men, their careers and their family members,” Smith said. “I know it was an extremely emotional day for these families, but I thought they got through it very well. They were very open when talking about their lost loved ones.”

During the ceremony, Smith served as an escort for the families of Marshall J. Newman and Michael R. Fossett, both of the NC Forest Service. Newman died Nov. 19, 1973 in an aircraft accident near Kinston while Fossett passed away following a Sept. 7, 2000 helicopter crash near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Smith also stood in for two families unable to attend the ceremony. He represented the family of Charles G. Cline who died July 11, 1969 when his aircraft crashed while he was demonstrating fire bombing techniques near Dover. Smith stood in for the Gerald L. Sundstrom Jr. family. Sundstrom died May 11, 1996 when his air tanker crashed after take-off in Kinston as he was responding to a forest fire at Camp Lejuene.

Smith said the monument itself was very impressive.

“It’s really nice,” he noted. “In addition to the names, there are engravings of each type of fire fighting service here in our state.”

He said the monument will serve as a living testament to those still in the business of protecting life and property as well as to those retired from service and, of course, to the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The monument is an important part of who were are and what we do,” Smith stressed. “It’s a place where memories have an opportunity to live on.”

Also attending the afternoon service were members of the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Association, Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Jim Long and 25 honor guards from fire departments across the state.

It began with a parade of fire trucks from across the state. A firefighting tradition n a pipe and drum band from the Charlotte Fire Department n was also involved.

Following the dedication service, the 163 names were read aloud, each accompanied by the ringing of an old-fashioned fire bell. A 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps” and the Call of the Siren closed out the ceremony. Later, a candlelight vigil was held in conjunction with the formal lighting of the memorial.

The monument, located in historic Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, is the crown jewel of seven years of work by the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Thousands of volunteer hours were dedicated to bringing the original idea of a permanent memorial to completion.

Funding for the $500,000 project was provided by fire departments across the state as well as public, private and corporate sponsorships, monetary donations and service contributions.