Lt. Col. Dennis Ray Blankenship

Route 16 in McDowell County will be named Saturday in honor of Lt. Col. Dennis Ray Blankenship, a Coalwood resident who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and received the Silver Star for his service in Vietnam. Blankenship is shown here receiving his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

WELCH — One section of a McDowell County roadway will have a new name Saturday when a sign honoring a resident who served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps is unveiled to the public.

A sign informing motorists that they are driving on the U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dennis Ray Blankenship Memorial Road will be unveiled 11 a.m. Saturday along Route 16 at the Maroon Wave Stadium at the junction of Route 52 and Route 16 which goes toward Coalwood and War, said Jack Bailey, a McDowell County veteran who knew Blankenship.

Blankenship, who passed away in 2013, was born Jan. 28, 9138, in Bartley. He graduated from Big Creek High School in 1956 and later joined the U.S. Marine Corps on Sept. 4, 1957. He was honorably released in September 1960 as a corporal, but rejoined the Corps on Aug. 29, 1961 and honorably retired on Aug.1, 1988, as a lieutenant colonel.

While serving in the Marines, Blankenship was highly decorated with recognitions including the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medals with Combat V, the Purple Heart Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal with one Gold Star, and numerous other medals.

Blankenship, who was then SSgt. Blankenship, became a recipient of the Silver Star for demonstrating “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity of action while serving with First Force Reconnaissance Company in the Republic of Vietnam on May 20, 1966.”

“During the inserting of SSgt. Blankenship’s reconnaissance platoon deep into enemy Viet Cong territory, they were immediately attacked as they debarked from the helicopter by an estimated 10 to 20 Viet Cong, throwing hand grenades and firing automatic weapons. Although painfully wounded by the first hand grenade explosion, SSgt. Blankenship reacted instantly, courageously exposing himself to ensure that all his men were accounted for and tactically deployed. Exhibiting daring and selfless disregard for his own safety, SSgt. Blankenship marked the enemy positions with white phosphorous grenades and then directed an air strike by supporting aircraft,” according to the Silver Star Citation.

“Displaying heroic professional skill and heroic actions, SSgt. Blankenship tightened his defensive perimeter, called for transport helicopters and marked his position,” according to the citation. “Still defending the landing zone, SSgt. Blankenship supervised the loading of his entire platoon on the helicopters, himself being the last to load, and only after his platoon had safely departed the landing zone did he allow his wounds to be treated.”

“By his daring actions and loyal devotion to duty in the face of personal risk, SSgt. Blankenship upheld the finest traditions of the United States Naval Services,” the citation stated.

The section was road to be named in Blankenship’s honor was outlined in Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 24.

Bailey, who lived near Blankenship in Coalwood, said three years of work went into getting the resolution for the memorial road passed. Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, and Senator Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, helped get the resolution passed in the Legislature, he said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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