PILOT MOUNTAIN — Since 2007 in Pilot Mountain, a walk has been held in memory of two town policemen murdered in the line of duty — but its message never grows old.
“This is the biggest tragedy that ever happened in the town of Pilot Mountain,” walk organizer Chet Jessup summed-up Tuesday regarding the deaths of officers Glenn Branscome and Ralph East.
“These two men were just everyday citizens trying to make a living for their families, doing a job, and unfortunately their lives got taken away.”
Though it’s been nearly 44 years since Branscome, 46, and East, 60, were gunned down, there is an everlasting need to emphasize that they and others losing their lives serving in public-safety occupations, and the military, didn’t die in vain.
This year’s memorial walk will originate Saturday from the parking lot of Tlaquepaque Mexican Grill at 511 E. U.S. 52-Bypass (also known as the Branscome-East Highway) in Pilot Mountain. It will begin with a brief ceremony at 8 a.m., including remarks by Pilot Mountain Mayor Earl Sheppard and others.
Walkers will proceed along 1.5 miles of the route the officers took the night of Feb. 3, 1969, when trailing a vehicle carrying four men which matched the description of one used in two Forsyth County robberies earlier that evening. After stopping it along Old Highway 52-Bypass behind East Surry High School, Branscome and East were shot to death.
The memorial walk has been held since Feb. 2, 2007, beginning in conjunction with the dedication of the highway in Branscome’s and East’s honor. Only one year since has the event not occurred, which was due to heavy snowfall, Jessup said.
“We usually have between 30 and 50 people every year,” said Jessup, a retired state alcohol law enforcement officer, with the turnout largely depending on the weather. “We have a good crowd — a lot of it is law enforcement families, and relatives of the victims.”
The latter category includes R.J. East, youngest son of Officer East, a faithful attendee. Another had been state Sen. Don East, also a son of the slain policeman, who died last fall. Others attending over the years have included grandchildren of the two officers who never got to meet them, “and that’s unfortunate,” Jessup said.
Accommodations have been made for people who are physically unable to participate in Saturday’s walk, according to Jessup, who regularly spearheads programs honoring all law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty in Surry County.
Family cars will be provided by Cox-Needham Funeral Home in Pilot Mountain, while vans and drivers are being supplied by Friendly Chapel Church, Jessup said.
This will allow everyone to attend the brief program, then ride along the route of the walk. Transportation also will be provided for all participants back to the starting point at Tlaquepaque Mexican Grill.
That location represents the only difference in this year’s event compared to ones in the past, when the starting point was a large parking lot. However, a used-car business has occupied that site since the 2012 walk, necessitating the move to the grill.
Yet the spirit of the occasion, and the need to remember the two policemen’s sacrifice, is unchanged, Jessup said, pointing to statistics showing that a law enforcement officer is killed every other day in America.
“It could be anyone’s son — it could be anyone’s father.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.