Front Row: Mark Frank & Paul Welch (both road crew and crash survivors)
Back Row: Dwain Easley (first responder), David Wills (former TV news anchor), Craig Reed (road crew & crash survivor), & Gene Odom (family friend and Head of Security for Lynyrd Skynyrd)
On the weekend of July 29, 2023, our LSM President Dwain Easley traveled to Jacksonville, FL to attend the annual Rockin for a Reason event, which is a fundraiser that raises money for the survivors of the plane crash. Although all the first responders were invited to attend, this was Dwain's first time to travel to Jacksonville. Anyone that knows Dwain knows that he is not one to venture very far away from his Amite County home, but he said that he felt that it was important for him to go and support the survivors and was looking forward to seeing a lot of the people that he has been connected with over the years.
The weekend was full of visiting and reconnecting with faces that have become friends, with survivors and first responders sharing a unique bond that was cemented in their minds and hearts on that fateful night in October of 1977. During the day on Saturday, many of the survivors, event staff, family friends, and others gathered at the Armory to talk and swap stories. After leaving the Armory, several went on a tour of the gravesites of Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, and Allen Collins.
The visit to the cemetery might have been the most humbling of moments of the trip. Gene Odom, childhood friend Ronny Van Zant and the band's former Head of Security, went along to show some of the out of town visitors where the graves were and provided some stories that only a good old friend and Jacksonville local would know. As the group walked upon Ronny Van Zant's grave everyone slowly became silent despite having been bantering just moments before. As Dwain stood and looked down over the grave of Van Zant, there was a moment of somber remembrance that seemed to wash over him... the gravity of the connection with that tragic night in 1977.
His grave was set back from the road, nestled under trees to provide shade where his final resting place could overlook a small pond. Just a few yards away, nestled between two trees, sits a bench that was donated by Charlie Daniels that is inscribed with Daniel's words to Van Zant:
"A brief candle, both ends burning
An endless mile, a bus wheel turning
A friend to share a lonesome time
A handshake and a sip of wine
Say it loud and let it ring
That we're all part of everything
The future, present, and the past,
Fly on proud bird, you're free at last."
As we walked back to the car, Dwain was quiet for a moment. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, "Well, I remember that night being over inside the side of the plane, looking down at Artimus Pyle and Gary Rossington sitting down on the ground against a tree... And Ronny and the ones we pulled out... I just never imagined that over forty years later that I would be coming to a cemetery and see their graves."
Later that evening, everyone returned to the Armory to attend the fundraiser concert Rockin for a Reason. There were several bands that performed as well as a silent auction with items including autographed guitars and memorabilia. The event seemed to be a success which enables them to provide monetary support for the survivors, many of whom have had lifetime health issues due to injuries sustained in the crash. The organizers of the event did a great job and we were thankful to get to attend this year and see it for ourselves.