While serving as a Navy officer overseas in 2011, Randy Rhoe died from cancer of the appendix. Eleven years later, his father, Clifton McKnight, was honored by the State of Georgia for his continued devotion to the fallen soldier.
Gold Star Fathers like McKnight who lost a child in the line of duty are the new namesake of a stretch of Highway 139.
They were recognized at a dedication ceremony in Riverdale Tuesday, hosted by State Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-Riverdale), who introduced the legislation recognizing the fathers.
About 50 people attended the event at Riverdale Town Center, including active service members, veterans and elected officials.
Although Gold Star Families and Mothers are recognized nationwide, Georgia is the only state that officially recognizes Gold Star Fathers Day, which falls on Nov. 9. Now, it is also the sole state with a highway named after them.
“We know that the road naming or the honoring will not bring back their son or their daughter, but we want them to know that we appreciate [them] and we are with them and the ultimate sacrifice that was made,” Burnough said at the ceremony.
McKnight said the dedication reminded him of his son’s legacy and the overall support he has received, namely from the Navy. Rhoe’s daughter, McKnight said, will soon attend a summer camp in Rhode Island with the Navy’s support.
“It is great that the service is allowing her dad to continue to be a presence in her life,” McKnight said.
Navy Gold Star Coordinator Rufus Bundrige said the program is dedicated to ensuring the children of Gold Star families are always remembered for making the “ultimate sacrifice.”
“Our hope is that the people who travel these highways and byways, that they recognize the sacrifice of our fallen heroes who are paying for the freedoms that we enjoy as a result,” Bundrige said.
Tuesday’s highway dedication is accompanied by another legislative effort to recognize the Gold Star Fathers. Introduced by Congressmen Hank Johnson and Drew Ferguson last month, House Resolution 706 would designate November 9 as “Gold Star Father’s Day” nationally if passed.
First Sgt. Tom Eddy of the Georgia Army National Guard remarked on the state as the best place to serve throughout the world. He pointed to the continued thanks for his service he receives from Georgians, whether it be at a gas station or an event like Tuesday’s.
Gold Star Fathers, Eddy said, don’t often receive similar continued vocal support.
“Today is a day where we get to thank you,” Eddy said.