NCDOT Press Release by David Uchiyama. Photos and videos: Kenneth Reece/WataugaOnline.com
DEEP GAP – Tina Palmer’s son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, died two years ago in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
On Thursday, Palmer listened proudly as the community came together to honor her son by dedicating a bridge in his honor. The new span connecting U.S. 221 from Ashe County with U.S. 421 in Watauga County is now the Sgt. Dillon Baldridge Bridge.
Capt. Patrick Sweeney, who served with Baldridge, described Baldridge’s fun-loving attitude, his love for his home and his country, and the significance of naming the new connection for his friend.
“This system of roads that connects all of us goes beyond transportation,” Sweeney said. “It’s communities, peoples’ livelihoods. It helps keep us safe, takes people to treatment, and gets people where they need to be. To have his name adorn something like this is no better tribute from the state.”
Palmer listened from the front row as Sara Rice, president of the Blue Star Mothers of the High Country, thanked many people and organizations who helped in the bridge naming process as well as those in attendance, and those who couldn’t be there.
Cullie Tarleton, who represents the area for the state Board of Transportation, emceed the ceremony, flanked by more than 20 military veterans holding American flags to honor Baldridge.
Palmer helped pull a tarp down to reveal the large green and silver sign sporting her son’s name. Hugs, smiles, a few laughs and words of both congratulations and condolences followed her for the next few minutes.
A reporter asked Palmer “What would you say to Dillon if he were here today?”
She paused, with her hair hiding some of the tears, took a moment and answered.
“I would tell him how proud I am of him, how much I love him,” Palmer said. “And just what a great person he became. He exceeded any expectation a mother has. I’m very proud of the man he became.”
Military veterans holding American flags to honor Sgt. Baldridge before the start of the event.
Cullie Tarleton and Captain Patrick J. Sweeney speaking
Bridge sign unveiled. Members of Sgt. Baldridge family and fellow Army members with the sign and American flag signed by fellow soldiers of Sgt. Baldridge.
Panoramic view standing on the bridge looking over highway 421.
Looking toward the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge.
Looking toward Deep Gap