January 29, 2014, marked the one year anniversary of the kidnapping of five year-old Ethan Gillmore and the tragedy that took the life of Charles Poland, Jr. in Dale County.
Protecting the children on his bus, Poland will forever be remembered for courageously standing in the way and challenging a gun-weilding madman, before being shot and killed.
Although the intruder kidnapped Ethan, who was later rescued by authorities, 21 students on the bus were able to escape through the rear exit thanks to Poland’s heroism.
Members of the community, students from the bus, colleagues, area schools, law enforcement officials, and local and State Department of Education officials joined the Poland family on February 5, 2014, to remember and honor him.
As part of the healing process, students who were on the bus were asked by counselors to write some things they remembered about Poland and how they felt about him. One student wrote, “Mr. Poland helped me on and off the bus every day when I was little.” Another recounted how Poland gave them snacks at 3:00 p.m., and still another remembered how he provided lunch money for those who, for whatever reason, did not have enough. The students considered Mr. Poland a friend.
Doug Astralaga, FBI legal counsel, who was in Dale County a year ago, returned for the ceremony and challenged students in attendance to honor the sacrifice Poland made by becoming the best they can be. A recurring theme throughout the speeches and letters was how Poland loved God and how he lived his life with character, love, and faith.
Alabama Sen. Harri Anne Smith presented a resolution from the legislature designating a stretch of Hwy. 231 near the location of the incident as Charles Poland, Jr. Memorial Highway.
The Alabama School Transportation Association is offering a $1,000 scholarship bearing Poland’s name to the children of school employees in the transportation department.
A statement read from the family said, “With God’s help we have overcome many hurdles. We have been told by many that our father was a hero that day. You may remember him as such, but we remember him as so much more. Dad was born for a purpose, he lived for a purpose, and he died for a purpose. All the awards and special recognitions cannot truly describe the kind of man dad was. The hurt in our hearts and the love we feel today describe a man of honor, respect, and beauty. If you want to remember Chuck Poland, live a life of honor, respect, and beauty, not only for your family, but for your country as well.”
Perhaps it was fitting the remembrance service was held on February 5, Ethan Gillmore’s sixth birthday.
Heroes come from all walks of life. On that fateful day, the hero was one of ours, a bus driver, Charles Albert “Chuck” Poland, Jr.