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Chamber hosts Remembrance Day

By Bobby Flash Melton

On March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and pilot Randy Hughes perished in a plane crash in a densely wooded area of Benton County. These Grand Old Opry stars left a legacy for country music fans worldwide. Sixty years later, Cline and her fellow artists are remembered, and her music has only grown in popularity.

To acknowledge the 60th anniversary of the tragic plane crash that claimed four lives, the Benton County/Camden Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Gone But Not Forgotten” Remembrance Day on Friday, March 3. Due to inclement weather that mirrored the conditions that caused the 1963 crash, the event was held at the Benton County Courthouse.

Lifelong Camden resident David Markham was a young man when the crash occurred. Along with his friends and a crowd of volunteers, Markham and others combed the woods about five miles west of Camden all night until the crash site was found. Markham spoke of this grizzly experience, and how the memory of that night has stayed with him throughout his life.

To honor the musical legacy of those who died, Tayla Lynn, the “Coal Miner’s Granddaughter,” and her guitarist Jason Howard performed for the crowd. Lynn’s stylings of the popular Cline songs “There He Goes” and “Walking After Midnight” were real crowd pleasers and reminded everyone why Cline is still so popular.

Lynn related that she wanted to be part of the Remembrance Day event because her “Mee-maw” Loretta Lynn and Cline were best friends. “When anyone asks me to do anything regarding Patsy, I’m more than happy to do it,” Lynn said. “I’m honored that Chamber Director Lorie Matlock asked me to be a part of the celebration today.”

According to Lynn, Loretta shared many stories over the years about her friendship with Cline. “Many of those stories can be found in the book Mee-maw wrote called ‘Me and Patsy – Kicking Up Dust.’ I think you’ll enjoy them,” Lynn noted. “Just like Mee-maw, Patsy Cline and her music are timeless.”   

Following Friday’s Remembrance Day event, many guests were in Camden on Sunday, March 5, to visit the site of the 1963 crash. Some of the visitors shared comments with The Chronicle on why they wanted to be on the grounds of the crash for the 60th anniversary of that tragic event.

“I have traveled many miles singing gospel music and written many songs. I’ve been on television and sang her songs. I stood on the Ryman stage where Patsy sang ‘Sweet Dreams.’ To stand here today where she lost her life took me back to being a little girl with a passion to sing,” said singer/songwriter Angie McDow. “Her untouchable voice began it all for me and I will forever be grateful to Patsy as she inspired me to do what I was born to do.”

“Growing up and listening to her songs I knew it would be very respectful to visit this place today,” said Misty Morris, of McKenzie. “When I was three, my grandmother played her songs and they stuck. Her music is amazing and has always resonated with me. I also feel a connection since I’m originally from Virginia as Patsy was. Her music was peace in my world growing up and her legacy lives on.”     

Jerry and Donna Griffin of Grovetown, Ga., extended a Nashville trip to pay their respects at the crash site. “This is our first time to be here, but it’s been on our bucket list for awhile,” said Donna. “Now being the 60th anniversary, we decided this was the time to visit. I was 10 when the plane crashed. Today’s visit has been somber and emotional but it’s meaningful to be here.” 

“We are both big country music fans,” Jerry added. “There’s not a week goes by that I don’t listen to a Patsy Cline song. Her voice was tremendous, and she had it all as a performer. I know she was great friends with Loretta Lynn and there’s no telling what kind of music they could have sung together had she lived. It’s so tragic that she died this way at only age 30.”  Late Sunday afternoon, Markham, now 80, visited the crash site he had helped to find 60 years ago. “I think about March 5, 1963, quite a bit. Those victims were great entertainers and well known to so many. I wish the county could do upgrade this site because it carries significant historical meaning not only in the country music world but well beyond,” Markham reflected. “I hope people will remember that this is the last place that those four victims were alive on this earth. It is a place that should always be treated with respect.”

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