Press "Enter" to skip to content

Hall of Heroes dedicated at new location; four more inducted

The walls of Zebulon City Hall tell of the bravery, dedication and selflessness of local Pike County heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives in the line of duty as they served in the military or law enforcement. Pike County American Legion Post 197 recently dedicated the new location of the Memorial Hall of Heroes at Zebulon City Hall as they inducted four new members on the tenth anniversary of the program. The Hall of Heroes is open to the public during business hours and honors 41 heroes from Pike County who gave their lives in military or first responder service.

Four local heroes were inducted during the Dec. 2 ceremony, including Marine Private Lee R. Todd who was killed in action in WWI, Army Technician Fifth Grade Grier H. Blankenship who was killed in action in WWII, Army Private First Class Martin Eppinger who was killed in action in the Korean War and Atlanta Police Department investigator Sherry E. Lyons-Williams who was killed in the line of duty.

Sherry E. Lyons-Williams

Sherry Elizabeth Lyons-Williams, ‘Tootie’ as she was nicknamed, was born on Oct. 11, 1961 to Lena Mae Hunt and Walter Lyons in Miami, Florida. She was the youngest of eight children. When she was two, her father passed away and she and several siblings joined her other older siblings already living with her grandparents, Walter Lee and Ruby Hunt in Pedenville in Pike County. Sherry attended Pike County schools from kindergarten to high school and graduated in 1979. Sherry was a standout athlete at the Pike County High School, excelling in track as a sprinter. She also excelled as a power forward on the varsity basketball team. She was a member of the student council and drama club and graduated 18th out of 116 in her class.

After high school, she attended Gordon College in Barnesville for two years while there she worked as an intern at the Pike County Sheriff’s Office. Occasionally, she was allowed to accompany a deputy on patrol. After two years at Gordon, she attended the University of Georgia in Athens, graduating in 1984 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science. Sherry was known as an avid Georgia Dawg fan. From 1984 to 1988, she worked at a law firm in Atlanta.

She decided to join the law enforcement profession and on April 1, 1988, she joined the Atlanta Police Department (APD). She was assigned as a Patrol Officer working in Zone 4 which is located in Southwest Atlanta. Officer Lyon’s badge number was 4030.

Having been recognized for her excellent police work, she became the first woman assigned to the Zone 4 Field Investigating Team where she worked as an undercover officer throughout the district. On March 23, 1993, Sherry was promoted to the rank of Senior Patrol Officer with an assignment of training new officers. On Jan. 24, 1995, Sherry was promoted to the rank of investigator where she worked as a Narcotics Investigator in the Narcotics Division located at the main APD Headquarters in downtown Atlanta. She was further assigned to Narcotics Team 3 responsible for Southeast Atlanta. As a police department narcotics investigator, Sherry’s duties included providing narcotics controlled-buys, street interviews, examining records, monitoring drug suspects, obtaining warrants, and participating in raids and arrests.

Throughout her years in the department, investigator Lyons-William’s character was described as fearless, punctual, confident, responsible, jovial, never turning down a challenge and leading by example.

Because of her height, she was known to say “Out of my way, shorty.” She was very athletic. During the 1995 Southeastern Police and Fire Championships, she won the Bench Press and 100-meter dash. She was so dedicated and proud to be in law enforcement, that in 1998, Sherry and Vincent Williams were married by a Police Chaplain.

While serving with the Atlanta Police Department, Sherry also served her country in the U.S. Army Reserves. On Sept. 9, 1989, Private First Class Lyons completed the Administrative Specialist Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She was assigned to the 213th Judge Advocate Legal Organization of the 81st Regional Support Command.

Investigator Lyons-William’s partner was Thaddeus “TJ” Chambers who was present at the induction ceremony. They had been partners for over a year and a half. On duty, they were always together whether it be in the office, on the street or at lunch. Together, they averaged about 14 search warrants a month.

The Atlanta Police Department Narcotics Team 3 whose primary area of responsibility was Zone 3 had been working controlled narcotics buys of crack cocaine in Lakewood Heights in the south side of the city of Atlanta. A search warrant had been obtained. Around 1:45 p.m. April 4, 2023, a buy was conducted at 1855 Lakewood Terrace. At about 2:30 p.m. the team proceeded to execute the search warrant. Receiving no response, the team entered the house through the front door. Investigator Chambers was first in, followed by investigator Lyons-Williams, follow by the rest of the team. Outside, APD patrol officers were covering all sides of the house. When the team made entry, they realized it was an illegal rooming house which was common for that area. Chambers advanced forward as the rest of the team cleared each room. Then one of the outside officers came over the radio and stated that someone came out of the basement door, saw the officers and ran back in, locking the door. Chambers, followed by Lyons-Williams, ran down the stairs leading to the basement. As Chambers turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, the suspect entered a room at the end of the hallway. The initial thoughts were that the suspect was trying to destroy evidence. Chambers, followed by Lyons-Williams, ran down the hall. As Chambers kicked the door the suspect came charging out firing a .45 caliber handgun. The suspect fired seven rounds. Chambers responded, firing 13 rounds and killing the suspect. Chambers was hit in the center of his chest – protected by his vest – in his face, shoulder and knee. Lyons-Williams was hit in the hip, armpit, shoulder and head. Several team members came down and started first aid on Lyons-Williams. Both officers were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where investigator Lyons-Williams was pronounced dead from either the bullet to the head or the bullet that bypassed her vest into the heart.

Investigator Sherry Lyons-Williams was 39 years old, and the first female officer from the Atlanta Police Department to be killed in the line of duty. She served in the department for 13 years. One of her peers stated, “She left behind a husband and a family of cops.” She is buried at the Garden of Peace section of the Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in South Fulton, Fulton County, Georgia.

After her death, her friends and family established a scholarship in her name through the Criminal Justice Studies Program and the UGA Foundation. She is also memorialized on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC; on the Georgia Law Enforcement Wall of Honor at the Georgia Public Safety Memorial in Forsyth, Georgia; in the National Officer Down Memorial Page; the Sherry Lyons-Williams Memorial Auditorium at the City Hall – East in Atlanta; the Basic Mandate Class 05-23-01 Memorial Plaque at the Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah; at the Pike County High School; and the Pike County Memorial Hall of Heroes in Zebulon.

A special last call in her honor was held, including the following radio traffic, “Dispatch to 4030. (Pause) Dispatch to 4030. (Pause) Dispatch to 4030. (Pause) Attention all units, be advised that 4030 of the Atlanta Police Department is not responding. 4030 is no longer with us. She ended her watch on April 4, 2001 and is now 10-42. Thank you 4030 for your bravery, courage, heroic efforts and many years of service. You will not be forgotten. Dispatch clear.” That was followed by all veterans and current first responders and military being asked to ‘present arms’ as three blasts of a fire engine were heard and Taps was played at the end of the final blast.

Lee R. Todd

Lee Roy Todd was born Nov. 16, 1898 to Sarah Sabina Barron and Thomas Moody Todd and he was the second of six children. At that time, his father rented land and was a farmer. On April 6, 1917, the United States declare war on Germany, and officially joined the Allied forces. Eight days later, Lee Roy enlisted in the U.S.s Marines in Atlanta. He was issued a serial number of 118820 and sent to Parris Island, Port Royal, South Carolina for his basic training. After basic training, Private Todd was transferred to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he was assigned to the 8th Machine Gun Company for the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Members of the Regiment traveled by train and ship to the Port of Embarkation in New York City and Todd departed on the USS Henderson for the Port of St Nazaire in western France.

In September 1917, the Regiment was assigned to the US Second Division and moved south 22 miles to Bourmont. In October, the Regiment became part of the 4th Brigade of the Division. After regimental training from January to March 1918, the Second Division was ordered to the front along the so-called quiet Toulon Sector just southeast of Verdun. Initially, the Fifth Regiment occupied the trenches centered around Les Esparges, 12 miles southeast of Verdun. They repaired existing trenches and dugouts and dug new trenches and laid and repaired barbed wire entanglements. On the evening of April 19, and into the next day, during a battalion relief, the Germans launched a raid; however, the 45th Company of the Battalion forced the enemy to retire.

The Regiment departed the Toulon Sector in mid-May, and proceeded to the Gizors training area, 38 miles northwest of Paris. Here, the Regiment engaged in 10 days of open warfare training. Suddenly on May 30, the Second Division now assigned to the French 21st Corps, French Sixth Army, received orders for movement eastward to stop the Germans, who initiated a surprise advance from the supposedly quiet Reims Sector. This advance threatened Paris, the heart of France. Retreating Allied soldiers and fleeing civilians choked the roads as the Regiment moved by foot towards Meaux, 25 miles northeast of Paris.

On 1 June, Château-Thierry and Vaux fell, and German troops moved into Belleau Wood. The Second Division was brought up along the Paris-Metz highway. The 9th Infantry Regiment was placed between the highway and the Marne River, while the 6th Marine Regiment was deployed to their left. The 5th Marine and 23rd Infantry Regiments were placed in reserve. On the evening of June 1, German forces punched a hole in the French lines to the left of the 6th Marine Regiment’s position.

By the night of June 2, the U.S. forces held a 12-mile front line north of the Paris-Metz Highway running through grain fields and scattered woods, from Triangle Farm west to Lucy and then north to Hill 142. The German line opposite ran from Vaux to Bouresches to Belleau. 

The actions taken by the Regiment and Division set the stage for the Marines and the Second Division’s success in stopping the German advance to Paris at the June 6 Battle of Belleau Wood lasting another 21 days which was one of their most famous and historic fights of WWI. The Regiment was given the nickname “Devil Dog” and would be awarded the French Fourragere for its heroic unit valor. To this day, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are the only Marine units to be awarded the Fourragere.

On June 3, 1918, as part of the initial Battle of Belleau Woods, B Company was located at Veuilly Woods as they prepared to meet the Germans head-on. At 9:30 a.m., as the Germans were shelling the unit, Private Todd was hit by an artillery round, wounding him in the head. He was immediately evacuated to a field hospital in the rear. While at the hospital, he succumbed to his head wound. He was temporarily buried in the near-by American Graveyard in the village of Bezy. Private Todd was one of the first Americans killed in action from the AEF during WWI as well as one of the first killed from Pike County. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal, French Fourragere for his and his unit’s heroic actions during the Battle of Belleau Wood, WWI Victory Medal with Aisne Clasp for his participation in WWI and the Aisne Campaign in France.

In June of 1921, Private Lee Roy Todd’s remains were transported from France to his final resting place at the Manchester City Cemetery. He is memorialized on the Pike County Veterans Memorial on the Pike County Courthouse Square and at the Pike County Memorial Hall of Heroes in Zebulon, Georgia.

Grier H. Blankenship

Grier Howard Blankenship was born on March 28, 1911 to Daisy Virginia Amos and Benjamin Grier Blankenship. He was the fifth of nine children. In 1930, the family was living in the Concord area of Pike County. His father worked as a farm laborer. In 1940, at the age of 29, Grier was on his own living in Concord. He married Clara Myrtle Watts. Grier worked for the Concord Corporation, a plant nursery owned by R.V. Crine near Concord.

Grier registered for the draft in Concord, and on Dec. 23, 1942 at the age of 31 and well above the average age of 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson. Private Blankenship was issued the serial number of 34579942.

After receiving his basic and field artillery training, Private Blankenship was sent to Droitwich, Worcestershire, England where on May 5, 1944, he was assigned to the 177th Field Artillery Battalion. The Battalion was equipped with three batteries of truck-towed 155 millimeter howitzers. The Battalion trained for the follow-on augmentation to the invasion and liberation of France. On June 6, 1944, Operation Overload, also known as D-Day or the Normandy Invasion, was initiated with the U.S., British and Canadian forces landing on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France. Sometime in July, the Battalion was shipped across the English Channel to Normandy and Blankenship, under Lieutenant General George S. Patton helped liberate large areas of northern France throughout the month of August.

At the beginning of September 1944, serious gasoline shortages forced an abrupt halt to 3rd Army’s pursuit across northern France. Despite facing shortages in gasoline and ammunition, on Sept. 4, the 3rd Army resumed its advance on the Lorraine region against highly determined German forces. A combination of German reinforcements and regained cohesion in the German forces confronting the US forces resulted in a dramatically increased German resistance in the region of Metz and Nancy in the Moselle River valley. 12th Corps assaulted across the Moselle River at Dieulouard on Sept. 13, 1944, and heavy fighting ensued for three days as the Germans attempted to collapse the bridgehead. During Sept. 15-16, the Corps liberated Nancy and Luneville. The advance of 12th Corps was met by an armored counterattack. During Sept. 19-20 at Arracourt, the 4th Armored Division of the 12th Corps destroyed two German Panzer brigades. Desperate fighting continued. The 177th Field Artillery Battalion was supporting 12th Corps operations around the Arracourt, Moyenvic and Grémecey’s forest. On Sept. 24, during intense combat ground operations and heavy German artillery fire, now Technician 5th Grade (Tech 5) and often referred to as “Corporal” Blankenship while leading two gun crew members walked the communications wire from their gun position to the Battery’s fire direction center, checking for breaks in the line. They found and repaired damage to the line. While returning, the team discovered a seriously wounded soldier.

Blankenship sent his two assistants to summon medical aid for the wounded soldier. While rendering aid to the soldier, his position received a direct hit of an enemy artillery round. Tech 5 Blankenship was initially declared missing in action. On Oct. 2, his remains were discovered, and he was further declared killed in action.

Technician 5th Grade Grier Blankenship was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the United States’ third highest award for heroism and bravery, the Silver Star Medal. He is also entitled to the European-North Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze star for his participation in the Northern France Campaign and the WWII Victory Medal. Technician Fifth Grade Grier Blankenship is buried in Plot C, Row 21, Grave 35 at the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial located in Saint-Avold, Lorraine, France just a few miles from where he died.

Currently, Grier Blankenship is memorialized on the Pike County Veteran’s Memorial on the Court House Square and at the Pike County Memorial Hall of Heroes in Zebulon, Georgia.

Martin Eppinger

Martin Eppinger, an African American was born on Dec. 25, 1932 in Zebulon. He was a twin and the tenth of 12 children of Lula Moreland Weston and John Henry Eppinger. His father was a farm laborer and died in 1935 when Martin was three years old. His mother along with the older children raised Martin, twin Marvin, and the younger children. The Eppinger family moved to Griffin and in 1950, Martin was 17 years old, living single in Griffin, and working in a retail grocery store.

On June 25, 1950, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was invaded by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). On Feb. 7, 1951, Martin enlisted in the U.S. Army and was issued the serial number of 14395828. Following his infantry training, he was sent to Korea and assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. He was assigned as a Browning automatic rifleman. The 15th Infantry Regiment had been conducting combat operations in Korea since November of 1950.

On Jan. 29, 1953, the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment was assigned to the left sector of the Regimental sector between Ch’orwon and Kumhwa on Line Missouri also called the Main Line of Resistance (MLR). The Battalion rotated companies in and out of the Regiment’s outposts, conducted patrols along the MLR, or provided a rapid response reserve force. Within its sector, the Battalion spent the next several months patrolling, ambushing enemy patrols, and improving its defensive positions on the MLR and outposts.

In the spring and early summer of 1953, the tempo of offensive actions in Korea increased steadily. Aerial reconnaissance from June 1-8, 1953 showed much increased enemy activity. From June 10-8, the Regiment was involved in what was to become the Battle of Outpost Harry. On the night of June 10, the Chinese attack the Regiment’s sector, concentrating on K Company defending Outpost Harry.

On June 11, B Company including PFC Eppinger and his fellow infantrymen relieved K Company on Outpost Harry. The Chinese began with another massive artillery and mortar barrage, continuing through most of the night. The enemy infantry crept in close through the artillery fire and had gained the trenches on the rear of the outpost where bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued. B Company of the 5th Regimental Combat Team was used to reinforce B Company of the 15th Infantry Regiment.

The Chinese attempted to reinforce the initial successful assault throughout the night. By daybreak, they again called off their assault and withdrew. On June 12, B Company was relieved by L Company.
At 10 p.m. on June 12, enemy artillery and mortar fire preceded an attack on the outpost which was broken up by United Nations (UN) defensive fires. The Chinese were in the trench for a short time but were forced to withdraw. Fighting ceased at 10:47, however, at 2:08 a.m., the enemy attacked from the north, northeast and northwest of the outpost. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued as the Chinese gained the trench on the northern slope of the outpost. By 4:50 a.m., Company L, 15th Infantry Regiment with reinforcements, drove out the enemy from the trenches and forced their withdraw. All action ceased with the exception of UN counter-battery and counter-mortar fire. Sometime early that morning of June 13, 1953, while B Company was providing support to Outpost Harry, PFC Eppinger was killed in action.

The Battle of Outpost Harry continued on until June 18. During this battle, the 15th Infantry Regiment lost 68 killed in action. B Company was specifically awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its heroic actions during this battle. This was one of the last major battles of the war, as the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, only 41 days after PFC Eppinger’s death. A total of 33,651 US military were killed in action throughout the war of which 7,486 are still missing in action as of 22 May 2023.

Martin Eppinger is buried in the Fuller Church Cemetery in Zebulon. He is memorialized at the National Korean War Memorial in Washington DC; on the Spalding County Korean and Vietnam Wars Memorial at the Veterans Memorial Park in Griffin; and on the Pike County Veterans Memorial and in the Pike County Memorial Hall of Heroes in Zebulon.

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Website by - Copyright 2021