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The designation of Interstate 26 as part of the Purple Heart Trail was one of many recognitions addressed at the annual Veterans Day celebration held at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park on Nov. 11.
Veterans Memorial Committee Chairman Bill Hensley said the event was dedicated to all veterans, but especially Purple Heart recipients in Unicoi County.
During the service, Erwin Police Chief and former U.S. Marine Regan Tilson recognized 12 Unicoi County veterans who have received a Purple Heart — Donald Shelton, Floyd James, George Hatcher, Clark Arwood, Robert Carey, Alfred Hall, Roy Rigsby, Dwight Shelton, Ronald Ambrose, Paul Cercia, J.C. Bright and Jeff White.
Tilson gave a brief history about the Purple Heart honor. He explained the award was created in 1782 by George Washington, who was the chief commander in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
The Purple Heart, Tilson said, was received by a total of 320,518 veterans in World War I; 1,076,245 veterans in World War II; 118,650 veterans in the Korean War; 351,794 veterans in the Vietnam War and 607 veterans in the Persian Gulf War.
Currently more than 50,000 Purple Heart awards have been given to those who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tilson said.
“The work of the Veterans Committee in designating the Purple Heart Trail is an honor to the people who were awarded and distinguished themselves by going forward for our country even when they knew they could be wounded,” Tilson said.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the designation of the Purple Heart Trail is another initiative to honor all veterans.
“Interstate 26 is a well-traveled route and gets a lot of exposure,” Lynch said. “We felt like it would be another way to make our veterans feel honored and especially the ones who have been wounded in battle. The trail coupled with our Veterans Memorial Park kind of shows the community spirit is patriotic.”
Lynch said it is always good to see the community come together on Veteran’s Day.
“The service embodies the spirit of our community,” Lynch said. “It is always good to see who comes up to pay tribute to those who have fought, died and were wounded.”
Recently elected town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley introduced guest speaker Sen. Rusty Crowe, whose district beginning this year will include Unicoi County. Crowe said the Purple Heart Trail legislation was passed in 2000 and goes from Mountain City to Memphis.
“We look forward to a ceremony coming up very soon out on the highway so that we can honor all of our Purple Heart veterans with the designation,” Crowe said.
Doris said Crowe currently serves on the Governor’s Armed Forces and Veterans Committee.
“We’re doing this in communities all across the country today,” Crowe said on Sunday. “Americans have come together to recognize and honor those who has served in our United States Armed Forces. We honor all of our veterans; some gave the ultimate sacrifice, some were captured, some are still missing in action, some were wounded and received the Purple Heart and many came home to suffer from the effects of war like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Agent Orange, mustard gas, suicide and other war-related injuries.”
Crowe complemented Unicoi County’s veterans memorial and said he is very proud of all the Purple Heart veterans in Unicoi County.
“I’m proud that you’ve asked me to do this today,” Crowe said. “Thanks to all of you for coming out today to honor our veterans and honor their sacrifices. They cared more about our liberty and freedom than they did their own lives. They cared more about us than they did themselves especially those who gave the final sacrifices and those Purple Heart recipients that are with us today.”

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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