First Posted: 2/4/2009
PILOT MOUNTAIN Exactly 40 years after two Pilot Mountain Police officers were killed along Old U.S. 52 Bypass behind East Surry High School, about 15 people met at that same location for a small, but touching candlelight vigil Tuesday night to remember them.
Tuesday nights cold temperature was eerily similar to the night in which police Officers Ralph East, 60, and Glenn Branscome, 47, were shot to death between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., said Chet Jessup, 47, a local Alcohol Law Enforcement officer who organized the vigil.
No matter how tragic this event was, East and Branscome will not be forgotten in the town of Pilot Mountain, he said after the vigil.
On the night of Feb. 3, 1969, the robbery of two service stations in Forsyth County were announced through radio calls, alerting officers of the hold-ups. According to a news report by The News published on Feb. 7, 1969, Officers East and Branscome reported over the local police radio network they had stopped a red convertible on U.S. 52 Bypass behind East Surry High School. The time was approximately 10:45 p.m.
The news report went on to state it was their last mission.
At about 11 p.m., two Mount Airy brothers spotted a red convertible traveling at high speeds and later, up the road, saw a parked police cruiser and the bodies of both officers. About an hour later, two sets of brothers were charged with the murders and taken into custody in Winston-Salem.
Perry and Lankie Sanders and Charles and James Monroe were charged with the murders.
It is a mixture of sadness and memory for me, David Beal said Wednesday following the vigil.
He worked as a State Bureau investigator during the crime in 1969.
When I got home last night, I felt completely drained from the emotion of being on the spot again, and the deep appreciation I have for those of two officers, he said Wednesday. I dont want the deaths of these two officers to be forgotten, and the way to do that is for generations to not do that.
The deep appreciation for East and Branscome has also spanned four decades for Jessup, who spearheaded an effort four years ago to have a strip of Old U.S. 52 Bypass where the officers died to be named in their honor.
Branscome and East, and any and all law enforcement officers, killed in the line of duty they are more than a name on a wall that exist in Washington, D.C. They were men, fathers, they lived a normal life, and unfortunately, they lost their lives but they gave them for the citizens of this community, he said.
He was only 7-years-old at the time of their deaths, but he said he remembers the news reports that followed days after the killings, and the support and unity of the community. But its the saddening reality of older generations passing or moving away that motivated him to keep their memory alive.
Because the 40th year anniversary, Ive had this in my mind for a substantial time to do this, and God-willing, Ill do my best to have a 50th anniversary, he said. Pilot Mountain is a small town, and a lot of people have died in 40 years or moved away, and a tremendous amount of people dont even know this happened. The key is awareness, Ive heard people say, Its hard to believe 40 years, I hardly remembered, and I knew it wasnt going to be long before a whole generation didnt know.
For the last few years, Jessup has also organized a walk in memory of the slain officers that takes place along the portion of Old U.S. 52 Bypass for a little more than mile on the Saturday of or before Feb. 3. This years walk was held this past Saturday.
Because it was the 40th anniversary, Jessup thought the vigil would be a touching ceremony to accompany the walk this year.
Because they didnt die serving war or protecting the president doesnt make their death less tragic, but their deaths have saved lives, he said. As tragic as the event was, even though lives were lost, their deaths have saved unknown amounts of injuries because of state training regulations mandated as a result of the incident.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.