Honoring Our Veterans


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A Day of Remembrance - Memorial Day - May 27, 2002 

An emotional crowd of veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and peacetime service as well as family members listen attentively to those who spoke at the first annual "A Day of Remembrance" held at the downtown park in McKenzie.

McKenzie's downtown park resembled the scene of a family reunion with every age from toddlers to seniors represented at the City's first annual "A Day of Remembrance" Memorial Day event. Missed was Mayor Patty Edwards who is recovering from a bout of ill health.

McKenzie National Guard Unit Company A(-), 230th Engineer Battalion provided the color guard for the event. Specialist Beret Felleson and Sergeant Mike Ilco, under the direction of Training NCO Sergeant Spiro Roditis, posted the United States and Tennessee flags while veterans and family members looked on with respect.

City Clerk Dana Deem, himself a retired Air Force veteran, welcomed veterans and guests and highlighted Carroll County's sacrifices in each war since the Civil War, in which 116 Carroll County soldiers lost their lives, with both Union and Confederate soldiers represented in that number.

While the first Memorial Day was instituted after the Civil War to honor the sacrifice of those who fought and died on our nation's soil, Carroll County's contributions to the nation's war efforts actually began 15 years earlier when 68 soldiers from Carroll County died in the Mexican War, an effort that brought Texas and all the present-day Southwestern states into the Union.

Carroll County's total sacrifice totals 328 men lost in wars throughout the years from 1846 to present as follows:
* Mexican War (1846-48) - 68
* Civil War (1861-65) - 116
* Spanish-American War (1898) - 1
* World War I (1917-1919) - 41
* World War II (1941-45) - 77
* Korean War (1950-53) - 12
* Vietnam Conflict (1964-73) - 13

Mr. Wade Allen, Pastor of the Pentecostal Faith Church of God and a McKenzie City Council Representative, offered the invocation, his petition reflecting both the uncertainty of America's current conflict and the principles that make the United States the greatest country in the world:
"May we have grateful patriotism... rooted in the bedrock of gratitude with deep devotion to the institutions and high ideals for which our country's flag is an emblem. Help us to consecrate ourselves to the great heritage of freedom... Inspire all of our people to hold sacred this glorious heritage. Keep us from strife, and may we live together in unity. Bless the president of our country; give him your wisdom and strength. Be with all those in power... We ask your blessing upon our men and women in the military... may the horrors of war soon pass forever from the earth..."

State Representative Mark Maddox, whose unwavering respect for veterans led him to become one of the founders of the event, was on hand to dedicate the dogwood tree planted in honor of "our veterans, past, present and future" as the plaque reads that was placed in front of the young tree. In years to come, the pink dogwood will contrast with white dogwoods in the park as a distinctive reminder of the sacrifice of veterans.

That sacrifice extends to the families of veterans as well, Representative Maddox noted. "Some sacrificed everything. They did not come home, but remain forever young in the memories of their loved ones and forever heroes to the rest of us."

To the veterans who made it home - "Whether you rode a Pacific wave, crossed an Italian mountain, outlasted a North Atlantic storm, endured a German winter, stormed a French beach, survived North African sand, hustled up a Korean hill, sweltered in a Vietnamese jungle, crossed a Persian Gulf desert, or persisted through loneliness, boredom and depression in the states" - Representative Maddox said, "thank you."

He challenged those who look upon the pink blossoms of the dogwood to remember "freedom is not free and it never will be."

"We dedicate this tree to the memories of those who gave all. We dedicate ourselves to preserving the land they fought to save. We will not forget," he concluded.

The day was made more special by the presence of the Carroll County RSVP Choir whose rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and, later in the ceremony, "America the Beautiful" paid tribute to those who fought in battles throughout history to make possible the beautiful and great country of the United States.

John Kermit Laughrey recites the Gettysburg Address.
John Kermit Laughrey, a McKenzie High School Freshman and grandson of Kermit Holland, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, appeared dressed as Abraham Lincoln to perform the Gettysburg Address, its message as fresh today as when it was delivered 139 years ago in dedication of the Civil War cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: "... we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth."

Mrs. Sybil King of McKenzie - who was stationed at Pearl Harbor with her husband Chandler King when Japanese kamikaze pilots made their ill-fated attempt to bring America to her knees - read the emotional poem, "Just a Common Soldier" by A. Lawrence Vaincourt. The poem hails aging soldiers who, once home from war, "lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life. Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way..." leading one to realize that we pass unsung heroes every day on the streets and in the shops of our own towns, their stories of true courage and sacrifice giving way to relentless time as their numbers decrease with the passage of years since they served.

Danny Bobo introduced the guest speaker, his father, Vernon Bobo of Trezevant, whose exploits during World War II earned the silver star, two bronze stars and four purple hearts.

Mr. Vernon Bobo recounts his  experiences as a soldier on the French battlefields during World War II.

He recalled twin brothers, Thomas and James Myrick from McKenzie, as well as Gene Brockman, a friend from Trezevant, who were among many who sailed to England and on to France, arriving just 12 days after the June 6, 1944 invasion of the beach at Normandy by American, British and Canadian troops.

On June 7, the Bobos' first child, Sandra, was born. She would be 11 months ago before her father would set eyes on her.

In France, while troops were massing on both sides of the conflict, one of the Myrick twins took ill with pneumonia. While he was recuperating in England, his brother was killed by enemy fire. It was September by the time the surviving twin rejoined his unit in Luxembourg. "Very soon, he was killed also," Bobo said.

Gene Brockman had been wounded on the first day of battle. "He was picked up on the battlefield by the Germans and died ten days later in a German hospital," Bobo related. During the first eight days of combat, the regiment lost 800 men and 75 officers. "It seemed like not a matter of getting killed but when," he said.

He recounted the nearly impenetrable hedgerows formed by mounds of dirt, like earthen fences, atop which grew thick hedges. As time went by, the men fighting alongside him against the hedgerow-protected German forces kept changing as replacement troops took the place of those killed. In the first 33 days of fighting, the men could not recall being able to bathe or change clothes.

Other veterans in the audience were familiar with the terrain and conditions of which Mr. Bobo spoke. Present was former World War II P.O.W. Dwayne Pearson of Huntingdon, a hero by any standard, and other World War II veterans such as Everett McBride, Dr. N.J. Headden, Milton Strayhorn, Dr. Smith and Al Wainscott. Veterans of the Korean War like hometown hero Bailey Wrinkle as well as Vietnam veterans Darrell McCadams Tom Nolen and Assistant Police Chief Bobby Pate were also present. Many other veterans, all important, attended the event.

Jill Holland of McKenzie took advantage of the opportunity provided for those in the audience to share memories of loved ones lost in war. Though little is known of the life of her great-great-grandfather Thomas Larkin Harris, his last will and testament reveals his closest kin was his young daughter, Mary. Only months after the will was written, Larkin was killed in battle at Shiloh, his remains among the 727 bodies interred in the largest mass grave at Shiloh in which some bodies are stacked seven deep.

She spoke as well of her uncle, Harris Collier, who graduated from McKenzie High School and played football for two years at Vanderbilt University before joining the Air Corps, rising to the rank of Captain as a test pilot stationed at Patterson Field in Ohio. He was a passenger in a bomber that crashed in Ohio, making him the third Vanderbilt football player killed during World War II.

Mrs. Jane Cole shared her growing years in West Virginia that were marked by the patriotic service of her four brothers. When she was eight years old, two of them joined the Marines with one killed at the tender age of 19. The two brothers left at home, ages 18 and 16, immediately joined the Marines to honor their brother, however, only the younger and bigger of the two was retained when it was discovered the two were brothers. Undaunted, the 18-year-old joined the Army, and both younger brothers served in the Korean War. "My childhood was a patriotic one," said Mrs. Cole, a member of the RSVP Choir. "That was our life; waiting for the war to end."

Army veteran Henry Carter recites the poem, "Freedom is not Free."

Retired Army veteran Henry Carter read "Freedom Is Not Free" by Maj. Kelly Strong as the ceremony neared its end. The poem recounts the great sacrifices paid over many years to retain the values and freedom enjoyed in America:

I watched the flag pass by one day, it fluttered in the breeze,
A young man in uniform saluted it, and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform -- so young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert, he'd stand out in the crowd.
I thought, how many men like him had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom is not free.
I heard the sound of taps one night, when everything was still.
I listened to the bugler play and felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times that taps had meant "Amen"
When a flag had draped a coffin of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children, of mothers and the wives
Of fathers, sons and husbands, with interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard at the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom is not free.

Korean War veteran Bailey Wrinkle was joined by retired Air Force veterans Donna Sellers and Tan Gee Deem in placing a wreath at the war memorial, the path upon which they walked lined with memorials to veterans.

The Carroll County RSVP Choir was a wonderful addition to the memorial service.

In the benediction, Pastor Allen expressed the hope of a nation in quoting John 16:33: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

"Give us this peace, I pray," petitioned the Reverend.

Following the retirement of the colors by the color guard, many present lingered to share the beautiful morning and lasting sentiment of grateful appreciation for those who served to keep America free.


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