Plott honored with gifts
As the dark funnel cloud pressed closer and closer to former Sheriff Larry Plott’s East Franklin home on the afternoon of April 27, the only thing on his mind was seeking shelter from whatever was coming his way.
Plott, who retired in January after 28 years in the sheriff’s office, was home that afternoon while his wife, Pam, was at work in Russellville. Plott said he was watching a local news station when the meteorologist said a deadly tornado was heading straight for his home and he knew he had to act fast.
“We have a storm shelter downstairs but the tornado just exploded it,” Plott said. “I was banged up but I was thankful to be alive.”
Once the tornado passed, Plott realized his home and all of his and his wife’s possessions were gone – swept away by the 200 mph winds that destroyed homes and lives on the path the EF-5 tornado cut through Franklin County.
In the next several days following the disaster, Plott, like many others who lost their homes, began to determine exactly what material possessions had been lost and which ones could be replaced. But he knew that some things that were special to him couldn’t be found at the store.
During the 28 years that Plott served as sheriff, he worked with many different law enforcement organizations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the CIA and Scotland Yard. As a result of these connections, Plott began to amass an impressive collection of patches and badges from these different agencies.
“I started getting these patches to remember a certain case or a certain accomplishment and it had grown to a collection of about 300 patches and 60 badges,” Plott said. “It was very special to me.”
But 28 years of collecting was blown away along with the rest of the Plotts’ belongings when the tornado came screaming through East Franklin. Plott didn’t think he would ever be able to get some of those patches or badges back, but he didn’t realize that people both in and out of the county were working to make that happen for him.
Chris Ozbirn, director of the Franklin County Archives and Research Center, knew she wanted to do something to help the victims of the April 27 tornado, but she knew she couldn’t physically get out in the heat to volunteer. While thinking of different alternatives, Ozbirn remembered Plott’s collection of patches and badges and decided this would be her way to contribute.
“I contacted retired police officer Robert Baldwin in Pennsylvania, who is also a member of the support group for the Archives,” Ozbirn said. “He met Larry several years ago at a Confederate Memorial Service here and they began exchanging patches back and forth so I thought he could help.”
Baldwin then contacted Scott Barksdale, who manufactures patches in Columbia, S.C., who in turn contacted Rick Miller from Lillian, who serves as the commander of the Lower Alabama Search and Rescue.
The reason Barksdale contacted Miller is because this man knows a thing or two about collecting patches. Since he first began collecting them in February of 1981, Miller has accumulated 48,500 patches and 3,200 badges from different agencies across the world.
When Miller heard how Plott had lost his collection, he immediately knew he wanted to help because he had been through a similar experience in 2004.
Lillian sits a few miles from the Gulf Coast and the small Alabama town was rocked by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Miller’s home was destroyed along with most of his belongings and even though his entire collection was not destroyed, he still lost many patches and knew how Plott must feel.
Miller immediately began collecting patches and gathering duplicates of patches he had in his collection. He sent some patches through the mail to Ozbirn initially but decided he would bring the last group of patches to Plott personally.
On Monday, Miller surprised Plott at the Franklin County Archives and Research Center and presented him with over 500 patches.
“Knowing what Ivan did to us, when I have the opportunity to do this for somebody, I just feel like I have to,” Miller said, showing visible emotion. “I know what these collections mean.”
Plott stood staring at the table full of patches and shook his head.
“There’s so many things you think about during a disaster like this, but it brings out the best in people – and not necessarily in the area where it happened but all over,” Plott said.
“What these people did for me will help me get a little piece of that life back that I had before the tornado hit. It will help bring a little bit of normalcy back.
“I truly appreciate the efforts of everyone who made this possible for me.”