More than 500 people attended a vigil at 8 p.m. March 11 at the Navarre Beach Pier to remember those lost the day before in a helicopter crash over Navarre Sound.
Navarre resident James Blackwood organized the event over Facebook. He said he was blown away as hundreds of people filed through the pier’s gates from what started as an idea in a Facebook post.
“I did not expect this kind of turnout, this many people to come out and show their support,” Blackwood said. “It just shows how much we appreciate what our military does for us. These sacrifices don’t go unnoticed, it means so much to us that the men and women are out there fighting for us.”
Blackwood organized the event, but many people stepped up to help him. Volunteers also raised more than $200 for the families of those who lost a loved one in the crash,
Residents gathered at the end of the pier with candles where Momentum Church’s Tyler McNeely and Matt Arnold led those in attendance in worship, including a round of Amazing Grace.
“We are lifting up our condolences for those brave people who fight for our freedom,” Arnold said.
Pier employees handed out donated candles and matches.
Momentum Church’s Navarre campus pastor Alex Velarde led the group in prayer and had a direct message for those serving in the military.
“You inspire us. We want to personally thank you for courage, for choosing to fight for our freedom, for our country,” Velarde said. “You are our heroes. Your services is what makes the United States of America the greatest country on Earth.”
Cheryl Cockrell is in the Air Force and stationed at Eglin AFB. She attended the event to show her support to the military families.
“It’s just nice to see that there is just so many people behind us and what we do. It’s very encouraging,” Cockrell said.