A small memorial
With temperatures in the 50s and wind that cut through layers of clothing and kicked up dust to sting the eyes, May 6, 2007 was an unseasonably cold day for eastern North Carolina. By average standards, it wasn’t a day to be outside. But Lance Cpl. Johnathan Kirk wasn’t average.
That’s why hundreds of people gathered that Sunday afternoon in the Pamlico Beach Community Cemetery, in spite of the spring nor’easter blowing there on Rattlesnake Lane. They wanted to pay their respects to the 25-year-old Marine who was one of their own. They wanted to remember the boy who graduated from Northside High School, who became the man who served his country on the foreign soil of Iraq.
Johnathan Kirk had been in Iraq just three weeks when a roadside bomb exploded near his truck on April 23. By May 1, the boy from Beaufort County would be dead from his wounds.
By all accounts, Kirk had a head on his shoulders and a personality that would have allowed him to be anything he wanted to be. He chose to be a Marine.
Kirk chose, in the words of his cousin the Rev. John Hooten, “to step up.” He would make the ultimate sacrifice for his country, earning the Purple Heart, a military decoration bestowed only by the president of the United States.
For that sacrifice, Kirk’s family has requested that something in the state Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction here be named for him. The Beaufort County commissioners, in support of that request, have asked DOT to rename the Pungo Creek bridge in honor of Kirk.
It’s a simple and logical choice.
That bridge is appropriately in the area of eastern Beaufort County, near where Kirk grew up and where many of his family members reside. The bridge is also scheduled to be replaced in three years, so it should be appropriate, and easy enough, to rename it.
That seems like such a small request on behalf of a person, on behalf of a family, who gave so much.
But it’s a request that may hit an unnecessary — and unfathomable — wall of red tape.
The Blue Star Memorial Highway Markers program began in the mid-1940s, and its signs throughout the country honor all members of the armed forces. Interstate 40 in North Carolina is designated as a Blue Star Highway, according to DOT. Because of those signs, the bridge request on behalf of Kirk may be considered a “duplication” and may be stonewalled, according to DOT policy.
Policies are important and they’re often necessary. But it isn’t every day that rural Beaufort County loses one of its own in the service of his country.
Rethinking the policy and renaming the bridge are small moves when compared to the decision, and ultimately the sacrifice, made by Lance Cpl. Johnathan Kirk. A bridge is a small memorial for a life.