MIDLAND CITY – A ceremony that honored a school bus driver who gave his life to protect the children in his care included a statement from his family.
“Dad was born for a purpose, he lived for a purpose and he died for a purpose,” the statement said.
Charles “Chuck” Albert Poland Jr. was remembered Wednesday night for standing between a killer and the children on his Dale County bus a year ago, but his lesson of sacrifice and love for those kids went much farther.
Speakers at the event held at Dale County High School talked about the impact the shooting of Poland by Jimmy Lee Dykes and the abduction of 5-year-old Ethan Gilman had on school and law enforcement officials and the hundreds of others who pitched in to help.
Ethan was held in an underground bunker on Dykes’ property near Midland City for six days before the FBI staged a daring raid that freed Ethan and killed his captor.
Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson praised Poland’s heroism and sacrifice. FBI legal counsel Doug Astralaga called Poland “a true American hero” and told children at the gathering to “honor his death by becoming the best you can possibly be.”
Joe Lightsey, director of pupil transportation for the Alabama Department of Education, said Poland’s courage in the face of danger “challenges all of us to be better people.” He said Poland “was a hero, but he was just an ordinary man in an extraordinary circumstance.”
Scholarships will be given in Poland’s name. A section of highway near the shooting site has been named “Charles Poland Jr. Memorial Highway.”
One of the children Poland protected that day wrote that “having someone die for you is the most amazing thing ever.”
South Dale Middle School fifth-grade students sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” to honor Poland.
Words of encouragement and faith came from many sources, including Alabama Department of Education Director of Supporting Programs Dennis Coe, Dale County Superintendent Donny Bynum, Associate Superintendent Lamar Brooks, DCHS Principal Patrick Cain, Southeast Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Sherryl Walker, Dale/Geneva County District Attorney Kirke Adams and State Sen. Harri Anne Smith and Rep. Steve Clouse.
But Poland’s words when Dykes boarded the bus and demanded hostages spoke as loud as any: “I can’t do that.”