School football stadium memorial honors 'Charleston 9'
The fallen nine and other firefighters attended many West Ashley football games
By Edward C. Fennell
The Post and Courier
CHARLESTON, S.C. — For years, the firefighters later to be immortalized as the "Charleston Nine" spent many Friday nights in the fall just beyond the end zone at West Ashley High School's football stadium.
The nine, plus other local firefighters, were on duty and available "in case anyone got hurt," said Master Chief Timothy Strickland, who heads the school's Navy Junior ROTC unit.
Each year, JROTC leads a tribute to the firefighters who were killed in the June 18, 2007, Sofa Super Store fire in West Ashley.
On Friday, the tribute will include the dedication of a permanent memorial.
The Charleston Fire Department Honor Guard and the school's JROTC unit will take part in the dedication at 6:45 p.m., prior to the 7:30 p.m. game.
Strickland said bricks left from a repair job at his home were used to assemble a 5 1/2-by-2-foot monument bearing the firefighters' names and acknowledging their bravery and sacrifice.
Strickland said the fallen nine and other firefighters attended many West Ashley games. Firefighters continue to be present for games.
The area beyond the end zone "is a fitting place to a memorial" to the group, Strickland said.
"They were there every Friday night (for home football games) and they still come and stand at that same place every game," he said.
The Charleston Nine:
- Capt. William "Billy" Hutchinson, 48.
- Capt. Mike Benke, 49.
- Capt. Louis Mulkey, 34.
- Engineer Mark Kelsey, 40.
- Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity, 37.
- Assistant Engineer Michael French, 27.
- Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton, 56.
- Firefighter Brandon Thompson, 27.
- Firefighter Melvin Champaign, 46.
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