Forty-two years after the plane crash that claimed the lives of Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick and backup singer Cassie Gaines, a monument was unveiled near the crash site in a southwest Mississippi swamp.
Per the Associated Press, the monument, unveiled on Oct. 20 in Gillsburg, Miss., is located about 400 yards from the actual crash site, which is hard to access because of trees, vines and marsh. It honors not just the band members involved in the crash but also the medical personnel and search party.
Special thanks to everyone on the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument project committee that made this happen pic.twitter.com/jVKZ4KQDQG
— Brad Wilson (@gillsburgbrad) October 20, 2019
The memorial site is located on land donated by Dwain and Lola Easley on Easley Road. Dwain Easley was among the rescuers the night of the crash. Organizers of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Monument Project helped make the tribute a reality with the help of the Southwest Medical Foundation.
"Gillsburg has a connection to Lynyrd Skynyrd that this community didn't ask for, but has embraced with open arms," said lead organizer Bobby McDaniel to Jacksonville, Fl. television station News 4 JAX.
Thanks to the Gillsburg community's devotion to the project, what was initially planned as a green marker from the Department of Archives and History or a Blues Trail marker through the Mississippi Development Authority turned into something much larger.
"We had an idea for a highway marker near the crash site on Hwy. 568. It would give fans something to see, touch, remember and have a picture of when visiting the crash site," said organizer Pat Nelson to the Associated Press.
Instead, Amite County became home to an 8 foot tall, 14 foot wide black granite marker with steps leading up to the monument and text provided by some of the top Lynyrd Skynyrd scholars with Mississippi ties. In addition, a second monument will be placed at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center on a later date.
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During the monument unveiling, Ronnie's widow Judy Van Zant spoke on behalf of crash survivors and the family members of those killed when Skynyrd was en-route from South Carolina to Baton Rouge, La. for a stop on the Street Survivors Tour.
"Our family would like to thank you, all of you, for everything you've done to make this project and make this day happen," she said, per News 4 JAX. "A lot of the local people are here, and we really appreciate everything that you've ever done for our family and for Lynyrd Skynyrd."
Donations for the Synyrd monument and the hospital monument are still accepted, with the Associated Press reporting that money raised will go into a contingency fund to be used for directional marking along the roads leading to the location of the crash site marker, and other related long term expenses.
Fans can donate through GoFundMe, with donors of $15 or more receiving a commemorative guitar pick.