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N.C. 24 named Gold Star Highway in emotional ceremony

By MICHAEL FUTCH | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 19, 2017

Considering Fayetteville’s deep connections to Fort Bragg, a teary-eyed Darlene Norman says the recognition of Gold Star Mothers and the sacrifice that they have made to the nation’s Armed Forces is proper along a major North Carolina highway.

“This is a military town. ‘Hometown heroes,’ ” she said late Saturday morning. “Gold Star Mothers are hometown heroes, too. I’m excited.”

Norman, who is 50 and lives in Hope Mills, lost her son, Senior Airman Keifer Huhman, a year ago after he drowned in a canal in Delaware. Huhman was a 21-year-old with the 436th Communications Squadron when he was reported missing Feb. 10, 2016. Forty-nine days later, a fisherman found the airman’s body in a canal in Dover.

Norman was among a contingent of roughly 30 Gold Star Mothers and family members who attended a Gold Star Highway Dedication Ceremony downtown at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. A crowd of more than 150, and mostly military veterans, came out to listen to a slate of speakers, including two Gold Star Mothers.

The designation of a stretch of about 200 miles of N.C. 24 from Fayetteville to Morehead City pays respect and honors families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty as a member of the Armed Forces.

Those portions of one of North Carolina’s longest primary state highways traverse through Cumberland, Harnett, Sampson, Duplin, Onslow and Carteret counties. Last June, the N.C. Board of Transportation approved a resolution renaming those connecting links of the highway the Gold Star Highway.

“The N.C. Highway is one of the most important in North Carolina and, in particularly, eastern North Carolina,” said Jim Trogdon, the secretary of the DOT and a former major general with the N.C. National Guard. “Not only is it one of the longest in the state, but it does span and connect the two largest North Carolina military installations — Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.”

Trogdon said numerous Gold Star Highway signs will be installed along the route, including one at each of the county lines, as a reminder of spouses, sons and daughters lost in service to the country’s military efforts.

“My hope is that our citizens who travel in this state forward on N.C. 24 and their families will see these signs and reflect on their sacrifice,” Trogdon said. “Eyes lifted from video games of those who are traveling in the backseat may reflect on the bravery and service ...”

Eighty-three-year-old Virginia Rivenbark of Wilmington lost her eldest son, Marine Lance Cpl. Joel Rivenbark, on May 17, 1988, when she said he was struck by lightning during a training exercise.

“Acuteness of the grief diminishes,” she said following the ceremony, “but the grief lingers on.”

Lorie Southerland, who played a large role in having the highway designated, was one of the Gold Star Mothers who spoke during the ceremony. Her son, Army Spc. Michael Rodriguez, was killed in Iraq in April 2007.

The 55-year-old Southerland, who lives in Sanford, is part of the Dogwood chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, a group which had been leading the effort to designate a Gold Star Highway in the state. She also manages the Fort Bragg Fisher House, a place to stay for family visiting wounded or ill soldiers at Fort Bragg.

While state officials initially turned down the idea, she has cited state Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County as helping to keep the fight alive.

During the program, an emotional Southerland read off the names and capsuled the deaths of a list of fallen service members, whom she called “a few of North Carolina’s heroes.”

Before she concluded her remarks to a standing ovation, Southerland said, “When you travel Highway 24 between Harnett and Carteret counties, we hope you will reflect on our freedoms and remember our sons and daughters.”

futchm@fayobserver.com

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com
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