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Dick Franklin, last of Erwin Nine, passes away

Dick Franklin, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war as a member of the famed “Erwin Nine,” passed away on July 25. Above, Franklin points to a plaque at Centenary United Methodist Church that recognizes veterans from the congregation during a service held in November 2009. (Erwin Record File Photo)

From Staff Reports

Dick Franklin, the last surviving member of the famous Erwin Nine, passed away on Thursday, July 25. He was 94 years old.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Dick Franklin,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley told The Erwin Record. “As one of the Erwin Nine, Dick will always be remembered as a hero. I will also remember him as a soft-spoken, southern gentleman.”

Born in Erwin, he was the son of Harry Franklin and Annie Beth Franklin. He attended Unicoi County High School and joined the U.S. Army in September 1941 during World War II. It was while on a mission a few years later that Franklin would find himself reunited with other soldiers from his hometown.

According to his obituary, Franklin flew 14 combat missions over Europe as a tail gunner on a B-17 before being shot down over Munich in 1944. He was captured and held prisoner in Stalag Luft IV, one of more than 50 prison camps in Germany during the war, with eight other soldiers from Erwin. They survived the Black March during the final months of the war before they were liberated.

The men making up the Erwin Nine are George Hatcher, Dick Franklin, Richard Edwards, Allen Alford, Clyde Tinker, Fred Miller, Stan Norris, Jim Hensley and George Swingle. Each joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Each man was assigned to a different plane and all were shot down at different times. Yet, all nine airmen from this small mountain community ended up as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV. Each one the nine men returned home following his liberation. Their story is documented in Hilda Padgett’s book, “The Erwin Nine.”

Back in Unicoi County, Franklin briefly worked for the Clinchfield Railroad. He went on to East Tennessee University and earned a degree in 1951. According to his obituary, he was an instructor at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia during the mid-1950s. He was a personnel manager at Morrill Electric’s Rocky Fork plant during the 1960s. Franklin then worked for the federal government at FHA and HUD in Knoxville before he retired in 1985 and moved back to Erwin. During retirement, Franklin enjoyed fishing and hunting and was a holder of a key to the gate at Rocky Fork. He also attended Centenary United Methodist Church

“My husband loved military history. When we moved here we heard a lot about the Erwin Nine and Bill got a copy of the book that was written about them,” said Rev. Kim Isley, pastor at Centenary United Methodist Church. “I visited Dick over the years; he wasn’t one to brag, but one time when I served communion in their home, he shared some about his experiences. He jumped out of a burning plane at 19 and became a POW. His later career was just as distinguished and he was a devoted family man.”

Franklin is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Franklin, a daughter, Rebecca Franklin and husband Wallace Ashe Jr., and a son, Wade Franklin.

According to Isley, a graveside service for Franklin will be held on Monday, Aug. 5, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Mountain Home National Cemetery. The family will receive friends and there will be a reception at Centenary United Methodist Church immediately following the service.