September Somernites remembered 9/11 by paying tribute to first responders, military

·5 min read

Sep. 26—There was enough going on at the September Somernites Cruise to keep anyone busy.

There were plenty of Corvettes in the Showcase area on South Main street, campers lining North Main, and right in the center — in front of the Pulaski County Courthouse and across from the Fountain Square — there was a program that honored not only Somernites but the first responders and military personnel that helped protect the country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that took place 20 years ago.

A special ceremony was held at 5 p.m., leading off with vehicles from every first responder department in the county, holding a parade down Somerset's Main Street, sirens blaring and lights blazing.

Among the speakers at the special ceremony was John Koko, a Green Beret who was part of the famous Horse Soldiers and who is now the CEO of Horse Soldier Bourbon.

Koko, who asked the crowd to call him "Koko" rather than "John" like his mother does, described what happened to a group of his "brothers" when they found out about the events of September 11, 2001.

A team known as Operational Detachment-A 595 was training within the Cumberland River, when they learned of the terrorist attacks. They raced back to Fort Campbell, he said.

"We love our country so much, and on that day we knew our country would never be the same," he said.

By October 19, those men would be deployed to Afghanistan in order to protect the U.S. from further attacks from those who had perpetrated 9/11.

"President [George W.] Bush gave pieces of steel from Ground Zero, and he asked us to GPS when they were buried on targets inside of Afghanistan. And the men I call brothers, that will be here living amongst you, they are the men that carried that justice for our nation and almost 3,000 Americans into combat."

By "living amongst you," Koko was referring to those who are set to build the new Horse Soldier Bourbon distillery here in Somerset. A private groundbreaking is scheduled next month to commemorate the anniversary of the date those soldiers arrived in Afghanistan.

And they didn't only leave pieces of the World Trade Center in Afghanistan. The steel from the buildings that became Ground Zero is still a part of the soldiers' lives and livelihoods.

"We use steel from Ground Zero to form the molds that every bottle goes through," Koko said.

The owners of Horse Soldier Bourbon also want to build relationships within the community, he said.

"I hope you embrace us and bring us into your community, because those days and those years that followed and the losses that were suffered, is real. It's meaningful. We're not a made-up brand by some Madison Avenue PR firm. We're real."

In introducing Koko, President and CEO of SPEDA Chris Girdler called him "the epitome of all that is good, all that is right, in everything that has made America the greatest country in the history of the world."

Girdler also offered his own reflections — in his role as a leader of economic development — upon both 9/11 and the community found within Somerset and Pulaski County. "I think as citizens of this community, as citizens of Kentucky and America, we need to continue to look for ways and strive to find ways in which we can collaborate and always find ways to work together."

Both Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley offered their thanks for those who helped in the days after 9/11 — as well as thanking the members of the Somernites Cruise team for continuing to put on a tremendous car show 20 years after the first.

Keck paid tribute to the thousands who lost their lives on the day of the 9/11 attacks.

"What's really special is what happened from there — the charge the first responders felt to rush into the battle to save lives. To save the lives of folks they'd never met. ... in those moments that followed there was an incredible amount of sacrifice."

Kelley said of both the first responders and the military, "Those men and women are called by God to do what they do. And I want to thank every one of them for answering the call, because without them answering the call this world would not be as great as it is."

The ceremony began with a tribute to two members of the Somernites Cruise team who passed away this year: Jeff Girdler and Gary "Buzz" Baker, both of whom were past presidents of the Somernites organization and both of whom had served many years on the board of directors.

Of course, Somernites wouldn't be Somernites without a large number of cars, trucks and vans to view, and this one was no different. On top of Corvettes being the showcase vehicle, this weekend saw the return of the Lake Cumberland Volkswagen Jamboree, with Volkswagens from all over converging to delight the crowd.

It was also a weekend for camping, as campers participated in the fifth-annual "Campin' the Cumberlands" rally.

Campers of all shapes, sizes and ages not only turned out the Cruise, but many participated this weekend in helping their owners spend a couple of nights at Pulaski County Park.

That's where Corbin couple Lois and Russell Mayne stayed in their 1966 camper for the two nights leading up to the Cruise. For Saturday's Somernites in downtown Somerset, the camper was hooked up to the couple's 1959 Edsel.

The couple said they had owned the Edsel for quite a while, but have only had the camper for about a month.

Lois had done a lot of painting and redecorating over the past 25 days to get in ready for their trip, Russell said.

Lois added, "It's a work in progress. I've got all kinds of ideas."

Although she added new curtains and other trimmings, there were a few aspects of the camper that were all original, such as the upholstery on the dining area's seats and the gas lights.

The couple did, however, have to buy a new mattress. "I told somebody that the mattress costs more than the camper," Lois laughed.

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