Wednesday, June 17, 2020

36 Years Later, Here We Are

This entry includes spoilers for George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949. You've been warned.

When I was in college in 1980, I noticed a copy of George Orwell's book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, on my girlfriend's bookcase. I'd never read the book before, so I picked it up and began reading. The book was and still is the most disturbing piece of fiction I've ever read. I will preface all of this by saying I don't have problems with dystopian books, and I've watched many dystopian movies without carrying away much afterward. Also, I was not deeply troubled by the Big Brother sees all concept in the book like many people were. I grew up as a military dependent and living on a base. I was used to the idea of somebody else watching everything I did and reporting it as they saw fit. Taking it one step further, probably wasn't as scary to me as it might've been to someone growing up in a different environment. What bothered me about the book was the ending; there was no light. Everything remained as dark as it was.

In the end, Winston Smith gave up his rebel ideas and sexual freedom by giving into Big Brother. Without going too deep into the events that led to it, he gave up. He sold out everyone he loved or cared about. When I got to the end, at first, I was mad, and then as I thought about it more and more in the weeks after, I was bothered by the fact that in the end, no one escaped. I wasn't looking for a Hollywood ending. Still, I was expecting a conclusion that at least provided for some level of freedom. At the very least, if he genuinely loved Julia, why did he trade her to save himself? As the song prophesied: "Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you, and you sold me"

At one point, I set about trying to rectify it. I wrote almost 200 pages of a follow-up novel I was going to call Two Thousand-Three. In the book, the diary that Winston kept is discovered in a trash heap by a young man.  He has been assigned this mundane job but internally seeking the truth and a way to cope with them the society as it exists. During the course of the book, he finds out that he is Winston and Julia's child and eventually leads a revolt against Big Brother freeing Oceana. As I think about it today, whereas the storyline isn't bad, it was egotistical of me to think a twentysomething college student could write a sequel to a George Orwell novel. Somewhere, there is a box with those pages, and it, at the time handwritten was the only option I had. The box is probably in an ex-girlfriend's attic or maybe in a trash heap somewhere waiting to be discovered someday.

My point is, it bothered me bad enough to try and do something to rectify and fix it. In a lot of ways, what has gone on so far in 2020 leaves me with the same feeling of dread and darkness. So many events that are coming and going so fast you barely have time to digest one before the next crisis arrives. I'm not alone in feeling you eventually stop trying to digest anything new, hoping you can at least figure out one thing that has already been thrown at you. But then, maybe not. By the way, I lived through 1968. This is nothing like 1968.

George Orwell wrote disturbing books. It is not hard to find people on both sides of the political spectrum pounding on the covers of those books and claiming it is a prophecy about what the other side is doing. I don't think the solution is that easy. It is much more complicated. You have a populace running in opposite directions without realizing or wanting to know that all the answers being sought are somewhere in the middle. At some point, you have to stop demonizing the other side long enough to realize that if you don't start moving toward the middle, there will be nothing left. There is absolutely no way for one side to demand a right to speak and act with a claim of absolute infallibility if there is any hope of unity in the end. Both sides have to be able to speak freely without fear, and both sides have to admit the only solutions are those negotiated between differing viewpoints. Indeed, when you reach the furthermost edges, here there be monsters.

The last line of the book is a realization that Winston has after his spirit has been destroyed, and whatever is left inside him is a shriveled bit of nothingness without feelings: "He loved Big Brother."

No. Just no.


Monday, April 20, 2020

LockedDown Like Me

It's 3:45 in the morning on Sunday (4/19/20), I wake up fully alert and for some reason, I want to watch an episode of Dead Like Me. Maybe its a symptom of too much COVID19 running around, I don't know.

After searching my TV database, I find I don't have it digital. I then searched all sources (Netflix, etc) and could not find it. I knew I had it on DVD but I was wide awake but not energetic enough to go looking for it. Anyway, after checking the temperature in Berlin (65) and the weather in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Rainy), I went back to sleep.

The next day, I found my DVD version of the show and digitized it so I could watch it on my system. Fulfillment.

Dead Like Me is a 2 season - 1 movie series about an 18-year-old woman named George Lass.  She is a slacker who is selected to become a grim reaper after she dies from being hit by the falling toilet seat from the Mir space station. Totally plausible. It is quirky and fun with a level of dark humor any veteran would fully understand and appreciate. It also features the best character name I have ever heard: Daisy Adair - a blonde reaper who used to be an actress and lacks awareness of anyone and anything but herself. She always introduces herself as "Daisy. Daisy Adair." (upper left in pix)

If you liked Pushing Daises you will like this too. I heartily recommend it at 3:45 or any other time. Get it now, so you won't be left checking the weather in Europe because it is not available. Perfect for a Corona Virus LockDown.

Note: No one in this show ever dies from COVID19.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Whose Music Woke You Up Today?

I listen to a huge variety of podcasts, radio shows, and read a lot online as well. So, forgive me for being able to relate the source of this advice because I'd like to give them credit. I'm not even really sure what the official topic of the show was. Still, one of the announcers was talking about the attitude of your day been determined during the first few moments after you wake up. What they recommended was listening to music when you first woke up for a few minutes before you throw back the covers and get out of bed to start your day.

From the time I was in junior high until I stopped living on my own, I owned clock radios that allowed me the choice of alarm, music, or combination of both. Because I was a typical teenager growing up, I used both and at full volume to ensure that I was up in time to greet my day. Because of the way the device worked, I had no choice as to what music would play much of the time it was something like a transmission repair commercial.

Now, I have several devices that can wake me up and do so to a specific song if I choose. I was an early adopter of the Amazon Echo, and now my house is populated with these devices as part of my smart home set up. Several months ago, I replaced my last clock radio with an Echo Show device.  It has many alarm options including things like the ability to play whatever song you want to wake up to or a selection of songs by a particular artist. Being someone who is always preferred variety, I choose to select the artist and have kismet determine the title.

I will say that I have chosen a wide variety of things to wake up to in the past few weeks. I went from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Linda Ronstadt to Santana and even the Mamas & the Papas. Then I played folk music for a few days, including Peter Paul and Mary, John Denver, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce. Most of the time, I would wake up in the first notes and immediately recognize the song. Still, a few times, I've had to ask Alexa to tell me the title I was listing to. None of that matters, I am reconnecting with a lot of old music I had forgotten. The part that matters is the difference in the way my day has gone since then.
On the whole, I have felt more positive heading into my day – – which is saying a lot given the current condition of the world. Sometimes, I'm left with the tune running through my head, requiring me to feed my brain more songs by the same artist. Other times, I'm flooded by remembrances of events associated with the song. I let my mind wander off to people and places stowed in the deep recesses of my memory. I think all of this is a good thing.

Anyway, try it out for yourself. Many devices can help start your day with whatever music you want to awaken you. The only rule, if you can call it that, is that once the song starts playing, you let the entire tune play before you get up and get out of bed. Unless you're playing In A Gadda Da Vida or American Pie you only delay your day by three or four minutes – no biggie. Give it a shot for a week. See what it does for you.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Croce, the Ultimate Singer, Songwriter, Storyteller

Shortly after I turned 14, Jim Croce died in a plane crash. I'm not sure if it was before or after that I first heard him actually perform one of his songs. I do know that the Muppets were the ones that turned me on to his music with their version of You Don't Mess Around With Jim. Actually, I'm using Muppets in the broadest sense because Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson were performing as The Country Trio. What I loved about the song was the storytelling. Not only that, the story was funny and had a good turn around at the end.

Something to ponder while watching this: The song is about a man named Jim, written by a man named Jim, sung by a character named Jim, performed by a man named Jim.

As I got older, I sought out more and more of his songs. Many of them were stories set to music in the most amazing way. Roller Derby Queen, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, RapidRoy (The StockCar Boy), Speedball Tucker, and more. Each of them filled with memorable characters and a quick glimpse into their life. As a wannabe storyteller who was learning to play the guitar, I found great joy in the music of Jim Croce. Then, as adolescence took firm hold, I began to find meaning in his other songs.

People sometimes call his music melancholy as if it's a bad thing, it isn't.  I've always maintained there's a bit of warmth to be found in melancholy existing nowhere else. Among these,  were leaving songs like Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) and One Less That a Footsteps. There were also songs celebrating the happiness of love, like Time in a Bottle and I'll Have To Say I Love You In a Song. and the, dammit I'm being treated wrong by my girlfriend" songs like Lover's Cross.

What I really like about all of the songs, stories, and love ballads, was that they were within my vocal range.  Even though I wasn't trying to emulate Croce, when I sang them they didn't sound half bad. Also, because of the sparse music accompaniment (one or two guitars)  in his music they didn't sound hollow when performed as a solo.

Later, I discovered his posthumous album The Faces I've Been.  the double album was a collection of traditional folk, This Land Is Your Land, and segments of him telling stories. The man could tell a narrative story every bit as well as he could tell one in song.   it was the first time that I became aware of how varied his life experiences were and how they contributed to his music and stories. He held dozens of part-time jobs while trying to get a break. The result is in his music. I wore out two copies of that album before I switched it over to digital.

How did I end up with a blog entry gushing over a musician who's been gone since 1973?  Recently, someone posted an entry online about him and included a recording of him singing Operator. That song holds a special place with me, it was the first song I ever played and sang before a crowd larger than two or three people.

During my high school's Spring Concert in 1977, I got brave enough to walk on the stage by myself and perform that song. While I was reflecting on that bit of history another bit of history slapped me in the face. When I lived in Kokomo, in the spring of 1989, I performed a Coffeehaus at Dad's Deli. I played four or five original songs and told a few stories, but the last song I played was Croce's song Railroads and Riverboats, harmony performed by Melanie Kenner. As of today, it is the last time I've performed in public for more than two or three people.

Looking back on that realization, I think it is only an appropriate set of bookends that my first and last performances were both written by Jim Croce.

If you are not familiar with Jim Croce, I encourage you to look him up on YouTube or somewhere else and discover his music.

If you are a glutton for punishment, I have provided links to both live performances. Keep in mind both of these were recorded with a portable cassette recorder using the built-in microphone. When I had it digitized, they were able to clean up some of the noise but it is still rough.

Railroads & Riverboats


Monday, February 10, 2020

Squiggly Lines...and Beyond

I am finally back to steadily putting words on paper. The morning after I created my previous entry, I managed to put down 3,200 words before my keyboard caught fire. After beating down the flames with my mouse and pouring my Diet Coke on the flaming mouse, I gave up for the day. Many times when I have such a burst, later review results in me deleting about half of them, this time it didn't, I added another 200 words to what I had written, for clarity, and now the dynamite passage. It tells how one of my characters went from being a sincere and loyal man to one with secrets– deeply in debt and coerced into doing many things he would never have considered previously.

The storyline for Stealing Ferdinand's Gold has been in my head for a long time without making it the paper in some form. I've told the basic story many times over beers with friends but have never taken the time to put the words on paper. Now I am, and I have found this book required more research than others because of the need to keep the timeline straight. The story is set inside actual events, so I have to mold my narrative around events and ensure events remain in the proper order. The easiest way for me to do this is to be utterly familiar with all of the events taking place to ensure I am clear as to which egg came before which chicken and vice versa.

This book is a break from my Evan Davis series, which I've decided will have at least two more books before I make any significant character changes. I have some great ideas that will wind up in those two books and look forward to how the story comes together when I sit down to create it. I hope followers of the series will enjoy where I take these next two stories.

In addition to Ferdinand's Gold, I am working on a few short stories as well. As soon as I get to a dozen or so, I plan on releasing them together. I enjoy writing short stories; the problem is getting anyone to notice and read them.

When I was in ninth grade, I remember buying many anthology-style books from Scholastic Books. Each had a dozen or so short stories by various authors with a particular theme. These introduced to Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, and the written works of Rod Serling. The last time I saw Scholastic Books flyer, it was more about Harry Potter than anthologies.

I think short stories are ideally suited for the kind of world we live in, where we are trying to fit a brief bit of entertainment into the time available. Of course, if you look at a lot of what is being sold as novels by independent authors on Amazon, you will notice they have page counts of 100 or less, technically this is a novella, but it might also be considered short story based on word count.  Previously, a short story was between 7500 and 20,000 words, now it goes down to 1000 words. Anything less is called flash or micro-fiction. Now you know.

What I like about short stories is that I can devour one in 15 minutes to an hour. This kind of speed allows the story to hit me very quickly, and depending on the work, it can be anything from a roller coaster ride to a trek up the mountain, only to find a cliff on the other side. I love the variety. Plus, they are all self-contained, you begin with nothing, and an hour later, you now have enjoyed a completely new story — a quick escape from the real world.

Writing short stories is how I maintain writers discipline between books. It gives me something creative to keep that part of my mind humming while I'm dealing with other things. I used to consider these bits and pieces starts for new books, but realized most were finished within 10 to 20,000 words. So, I started making short stories out of them.

Alas, it is time for me to get back to work and create more of a world where you can take a few million dollar's worth of gold easily during a confusing situation, but once things calm down, it becomes almost impossible to hold onto to.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Squiggly Lines On a Page -- NOW

When I finished my ramblings about the Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial Project in November, I  jumped into a short story that had been playing through my mind.  The story, entitled Words Ever Unspoken, is the tale of two former lovers who meet to exchange some property which one had left with the other when they broke up years before. Eventually, it will become part of a short story collection to be released later this year.  Creating that single-story took an emotional toll as I worked my way through both characters creating the conversation they were having with each other as well as the one taking place internally. After extensive editing, and finally declaring the missive done, I found myself needing to get away from putting words on paper.

The timing was good because with family goings-on during the holidays, it would've been challenging to find time alone to write. Now, after the first of the year, I find myself creating and conniving reasons not to sit down at a keyboard. The constant flow of story ideas which I have been blessed with has not stopped, just the desire to make them more concrete than a wisp of smoke in the wind. The only positive thing about this is that other activities I had procrastinated about are finally getting done.

For those of you playing armchair psychiatrist, this is not the winter blues. I usually discover creativity hidden somewhere within the blues. Overall, my mood is excellent. I don't want to do the writing thing at the moment.

To snap out of it, I opened a document and wrote almost 3000 words describing the stuff sitting upon my desk. It may seem like an odd exercise, but I was hoping I would burst into a story about one of the action figures or something else in the bizarre collection of memorabilia with which I surround myself. After all, I keep all of these things around to inspire creativity. No such luck, although I now have a detailed inventory of the items on my desk should I ever need one for insurance purposes.

I know that this will pass. I want it to pass more quickly. Just like I know my lack of production will pass so will the availability of time to create. I hate to lose the opportunity I have right now.

In interviews, I say I've never had Writer's Block. I've never been without words or lacking a story to tell. That is still true even now. I have an entire humorous story in my head, the beginning of my next book about Evan Davis, and the next three chapters of my crime novel about stealing a dictator's treasure. What I lack is the motivation to put squiggly lines on a piece of paper.



Thursday, December 5, 2019

We Still Remember You - Article

On 18 October 2019, I arrived in McComb, Mississippi, to attend the dedication of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument. Before my arrival, I exchanged emails with Miles “Pat” Nelson, and at my request, he set up an opportunity for me to interview two of the many folks who helped make the monument to reality. Dwain Easley and Bobby McDaniel were among the first people to arrive on the scene after the crash in 1977. This article is a result of my interview with all three, as well as other people I met in the days I was there.

The night of 20 October 1977 was clear, a blanket of stars shared the sky with a first-quarter moon. Except for the occasional sound of a barking dog and a nearby Coast Guard helicopter on a training mission, it was a quiet night for those who lived near Gillsburg, Mississippi. Then at approximately 6:45 PM, the stillness was broken by the sound of a Convair CV-240 as its fuselage made first contact with the treetops. The aircraft failed to locate a clearing for an emergency landing and was losing a desperate battle against gravity after the engines stalled due to a lack of fuel. In addition to the flight crew, the aircraft carried members of the band and stage crew for Lynyrd Skynyrd, who were on their way to a concert in Baton Rouge.

Eventually, the aircraft came to rest after plowing directly into an oak tree, which compressed the passenger section of the plane to less than half its regular length, which stacked people on top of one another. There has been much debate over the timing of the fatalities from the crash, but either immediately or just after the plane came to rest three members of the band (Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines), and assistant road manager he Dean Kilpatrick were dead as well as the flight crew. The crash severely injured most of the remaining 20 people on board.

Dwain Easley
Gillsburg resident Dwain Easley was 26 years old then, and he was among the first to arrive at the crash site to assist. “The first thing I remember hearing was a helicopter going over real low. Almost as soon as it went over, the phone rang, and it was my aunt and uncle, they saw the plane going down toward our house. We went outside to see what was going on, but where do we look?” Since the aircraft had no fuel on board when it crashed, there was no fire to identify the crash site. Luckily, the Coast Guard helicopter returned and started making slow circles over an area in the woods behind Dwain’s house. “The woods were getting dark, but I could still see clearly, and we took off running.” Two Coast Guard helicopters used their searchlights to provide light to the crash area to help with recovery. However, both lacked equipment for rescue/recovery, so they were not used to transport the injured.

In the time between the crash and when Dwain arrived at the site, three of the band members were able to climb out of the wreckage and took off into the woods, possibly toward the light of a nearby house, looking for help. When Dwain arrived, he was one of five or six people who had found their way to the crash site. “The wreckage looked like an accordion… Being one of the first ones there, I started to climb on top of the wreckage, but I’d never rescued anybody in my life. So, I reached down (into the aircraft) and started grabbing one of the guys by the arms and started to pull. But I couldn’t budge the guy; then I tried another one.” Gerald Wall, a law enforcement officer, noticed the people were still wearing seat belts and told Dwain. Using a knife, Dwain cut through the webbing and was able to lift the first survivors out.
“There was nothing inside the plane that didn’t have blood on it, and it looked like there were thousands of playing cards scattered everywhere.” Pulling the survivors from the plane took a few hours as each had to be lifted out and carried to a small clearing away from the wreckage. Dwain focused on rescue rather than whom he was rescuing. He admitted he wondered what a bunch of hippies was doing on an airplane. It wasn’t until all the survivors departed for the hospital that someone told Dwain whom he helped rescue. He was familiar with the name of the band and their music.

Bobby McDaniel
Bobby McDaniel attended three separate Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts before the night of the crash. After
hearing about the crash, he turned on the CB radio to get direction only to be instructed to go to his family farm.  On his way there, he was approached by an ambulance driver, telling him they could not get to the site due to thick mud and a creek blocking access. “They asked me if I knew another way in, they said, ‘Bobby knows those woods he’ll get us another way in.’ So, I get in the ambulance and direct ‘em down a logging road on the south side.” After getting as close as possible, Bobby jumped out of the ambulance and ran into the woods toward the crash site.

“There was already rescue going on by the time I got there.” Because of some first aid training from the Boy Scouts and as a member of the civil air patrol, Bobby helped a doctor set up a triage point and helped coordinate the transport of survivors out via 4X4 trucks to the waiting ambulances. “At first, it was only one stretcher,” as a result, moving the injured from the crash site for transportation to the hospital was slow. Additionally, every stretcher had to cross a small creek to get from the crash site to the ambulances.

In the following hours, others arrived to assist the survivors and the recovery of the dead. Several hundred gawkers also came once it became widely known who was on board the aircraft. Once all the survivors en route for treatment, both men departed the scene — the following morning, they discovered the importance of the incident.

In the week after the crash, many people showed up to visit the site. Then traffic slowly faded to a trickle.  In the years since the occasional pilgrim would still knock on the door looking for the crash site. As time passed for Bobby and Dwain, their memories of the night remained vivid; it is those memories that kept a flicker of an idea alive in the back of their mind.

Bobby credits one thing with getting the ball rolling on creating the monument, social media. “At each anniversary for the past six of seven years, I used to go back there with two long-necked Budweiser beers, I’d drink one, and I’d leave the other one there for Ronnie and the boys. On the 38th year, I was back there, and someone had left a dozen roses, so I took a picture of it and put it on Facebook.” A friend of Bobby’s who was a photographer for a newspaper asked to be with him the following year.  The photographer and Bobby spent the 39th anniversary in the woods.  No one ever showed with more roses, but speculation on who brought the roses caused attention, and the survivors started to contact Bobby and other folks in Gillsburg. 

Miles “Pat” Nelson
When asked what drove starting something 41 years after the fact, Dwain explained, “A year ago, someone mentioned that most famous plane crashes had a marker. So, I wondered why we didn’t?” At about the same time, Mike Rounsaville contacted former legislator Miles “Pat” Nelson to inquire if they could get state money to put up a marker. Pat told him probably not, but there was no reason they couldn’t raise the money for a simple marker. At this point, they were only looking at putting up a small sign on the road near where the crash occurred. 

All they would need for the sign was $2300, but then “…someone presented a better idea -- why not, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker?” Bobby explained.  The price tag at this point jumped to $9800. Pat put forward the idea to create a GoFundMe page to raise the money; the idea also landed him the position of Fund Raiser. Pat approached Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center to join the effort since they already had a foundation set up to facilitate handling donations and expenditures. It was about this time that the Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument Project formally stood up with Bobby as its President and Dwain as the Vice (Board members not mentioned here are listed below).

Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center
“In the first week, we had the $2300,” according to Pat, “It took another month or two to get to $9800”. At this point, some confusion occurred in the process. SMRMC wanted a display at their site as well, since all the survivors were taken there first. The LSMP discussed a second Blues Trail marker, but no application was submitted. When the Board went to the state committee who approves Blues Trail markers, they found them receptive. Not only did they already have the money to cover the cost, but they also had the wording needed for the plaque. The narrative by Ken Morris, Karen Nelson (no relation to Pat Nelson), and an anonymous Skynyrd fan was expanded and used for the final Memorial. The state committee approved the Lynyrd Skynyrd Blues Trail Marker unanimously. 

Before the state committee could officially release the information, word got out about the approval. There was some consternation over the early announcement, but the more significant issue was that the unofficial version talked about two markers rather than just one. The state committee withdrew the approval, according to Bobby, officially they said  “, Lynyrd Skynyrd is not a blues band, and there is no Mississippi connection.” Bobby called them back and gave them eight or nine blues-based song titles and provided survivor Ken Peden’s name as the Mississippi connection. The committee advised Bobby it was too late for this cycle and to resubmit the application in three months on September 15, 2019. There was no way they could wait and hope to have it in place by the 42nd anniversary, “We went a different direction,” Pat explained.

Rather than waiting on the Blues Trail committee, the board decided to create a similar sign for installation on the side of the road. When they pitched this to the state highway department, they were told to place the sign roadside would require legislative approval. Spirits were low at being blocked yet again.

Bobby was going to meet with local property owners to see if they would allow the sign to sit in their yard. When Bobby approached Dwain, he was surprised to learn Dwain and his wife had discussed the matter. “Well, not in the yard but just a few hundred yards down the road,” Dwain went on to explain it was a piece of property not in use and that he would be willing to donate to the cause. “That way, the state is completely out of it.”

One of the other issues requiring approval was the use of the band’s name.  Even though it was a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they would need permission to use the name. Scott Smith, who was on the board, said he had a decades-old phone number for Judy Van Zant, Ronnie’s widow. In a favorable twist of fate, it was still a good number, so Pat left a message for Judy. When she returned the call, not only was she agreeable to the use of the name she had only one question: can I come to the dedication. “I told her, 'hell yeah', and a month or so passed, but in the end, we had a letter from Vector Management giving us permission to use the name.” Vector would also donate to the cause on behalf of the current band. At this point, the plan to establish the memorial was becoming known, and donations came in from both entities and individuals. Many, $15 donations were given through the GoFundMe page, arriving from 17 different countries due to the GoFundMe page being shared across several Lynyrd Skynyrd fan pages and on social media.

With legal and permission issues handled and monetary needs met for the larger monument, the pressure was on to make the 20 October deadline. Brookhaven Monument, a local company whose mainstay is cemetery memorials, stepped up to meet the challenge with a design created by Dave Pace and Kevin Laird. Dave recalled, “I asked the Board when they needed it, and they said October 20th.  I said, next year, right?”  The Board confirmed they meant 2019, with less than 90 days Dave and his team feverishly went to work.

While the stone was selected, Rich Hagen of Illinois, created the graphics etched on the back of the monument. Ground preparation and installation work began at an accelerated pace. “I was here just three weeks ago and helped lay the sod,” Rita Witcraft a fan from Iowa who chanced upon the dedication, said. Freshly poured concrete surrounds the monument, and three Georgia black granite monoliths explain the birth of the band, the crash, and the rescue efforts. On the reverse side are graphics of Lynyrd Skynyrd in front of the ill-fated Convair and individual pictures of the band members who perished.

On 20 October 2019, a thousand fans and family gathered for the monument's formal dedication.
Bobby McDaniel led the ceremony, which included words from local dignitaries as well as Judy Van Zant.  After the official unveiling, fans spent hours taking pictures of the memorial as well as the family of survivors who had attended. As people stood in front of the large stones, reading the words, and reaching a hand out to touch the monument, the internal emotion each felt obvious. Some were smiling and laughing at the joy the music of the band had brought. Others were holding back tears from the loss, which occurred 42 years prior.

In one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most famous songs, Free Bird, is the lyric: If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? Just 400 yards from the fatal crash, at 7364 Easley Road, stands seven tons of carved and etched granite that screams “Yes,” in spite of the passage of time and obstacles overcome.

Afterword: The first stop for all survivors was Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center. A second memorial now exists at his emergency room entrance. Dedication will occur in November.

Board members not mentioned elsewhere:  Krystina Anderson, Tina Brumfield, John Reinheimer, Jamie Wall, Brenda Martin, and Steve Lawler.