By Kendal Groner
Since 1971, the last Monday of each May has been recognized as Memorial Day to honor each of the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. Military. The Town of Erwin, along with the Veterans Memorial Committee and American Legion Unaka Post 25, have played their part in commemorating the heroes who served with a Memorial Day Ceremony that first began in 2004.
On Sunday, May 27, that tradition was carried on as dozens of Unicoi County residents gathered at the Veteran’s Memorial Park.
“We are here today to honor the men and women who have died serving our country … from the Revolution up until now,” said Bill Hensley, chairman of the Veteran’s Memorial Committee. “Their sacrifices allow for us to live in each constitutional right we enjoy today.”
The speaker for the ceremony was Reverend Garland James, an army veteran, retired teacher, and pastor of Unicoi Baptist Church, who spoke on the topic of lifetime landmarks influenced by the loss of a loved one. James spoke about how he lost several family members, both in battle and also once they returned home so impacted by their experiences that they were never themselves again.
“We all come today because we have a landmark,” James said. “We have landmarks of family, friends, and acquaintances that have been affected by a death on the battlefield, or a psychological death.”
“Today we have this landmark of being able to come together to honor those who have fallen,”
James read “The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech delivered during the American Civil War that praised the dedication and sacrifices of those who fought and died to uphold the principles of freedom and equality.
“You see folks, that is what today is about that we can stand and proclaim that we have this in us,” he said.
The soldier’s prayer from Psalms 144 was read by James, who also referenced the Book of Mark, where the story is told of the wise man, who built his house on the solid foundation of a rock hill, and the foolish man, who built his house upon sand.
“If America is going to continue, we need to return to that solid foundation and it begins with an old-fashioned Christian home,” said James.
According to James, less than 70 percent of Americans attend church on Sunday and less than 40 percent are willing to publicly proclaim their faith.
“We need a love for Christ and a love for the church,” he said. “God, family, church and America … when we follow each of these, things will fall into place. What will make America great again is you, and me and the rest of us.”
The POW/MIA ceremony was conducted by members of the American Legion Unaka Post 25 where Charles King placed the POW flag at the traditional table set for one. Ray Tipton with the American Legion explained the significance of the table setup.
“The white tablecloth draped over the table represents the purity of their response of our country’s call to arms,” Tipton said. “The empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, but all who are not here with us. The table itself is round to show that our concern for them is neverending.”
The table was decorated with a bible, to represent the power of hope and faith, a black napkin, representing the emptiness in the hearts of the friends and families, and a red rose to represent the love held for their country.
The yellow candle and ribbon symbolize the hope for a joyous reunion, contrasted with the lemon slice upon a piece of bread to remember their bitter fate.
“The salt upon the bread plate represents the tears of their families,” Tipton said. “The wine glass turned upside down reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the evening.”
Musical selections were performed by Allan Foster, who sang several pieces, including “I’m Proud to be an American.”
Before closing remarks were provided by Terry Haynes, Unicoi County road superintendent, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley and Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch placed a wreath in front of the plaque and eternal flame honoring those from Unicoi County who lost their lives in service.
“To give closing remarks on Memorial Day is hard,” Haynes said. “We cannot give closing remarks until God comes back in this country. I truly would like to say today is the last day we see someone die in battle, but I thank God we have those willing to volunteer and pay the price.”
Along with the unknown soldiers, the names of the following Unicoi countians who lost their lives in service were recognized: Harm K. Adkins, Robert Bailey, Richard W. Bannister, Charles B. Baxter, Bob Beam, Oscar J. Bennett, Robert L. Bennett, Eugene Bowman, James J. Britt, Lewis Ray Callahan, Bernard Chapman, Curtis D. Clark, Donald R. Cook, Hubert D. Copp, Gus Cousins, Charles E. Duncan, Dallas P. Edmond, Mills Edmunds, David L. Edney, Garrett Edwards, Mark O. Edwards, Plen Edwards, Kelley L. Epley, Jr., Paul E. Farmer, James H. Foster, William T. Gilbert, John Green, Donald L. Grubb, Dwight L. Guinn, Vernon C. Hardin, Hobert Harris, Woodward Harris, Elmer C. Harvey, Bobby G. Haynes, Donald Hensley, Luther E. Hensley, Orville F. Hensley, Doyle Holcomb, Fred B. Howell, Howard W. Hurt, Howard Huskins, Bruce Johnson, Douglas L. Jones, William A. Jones, Dwight L. Keever, Donald C. Keplinger, William A. Ledford, Harley E. Lewis, Robert F Martin, Harley G. Masters, Paul Masters, Albert C. May, Deanah R. McCurry, Lina McCurry, Ralph C. McIntosh, Reld C. McInturff, Thomas S. McInturff, Wade H. McLain, Joseph P. McLaughlin, Wade H. McLain, Joseph P. McLaughlin, Johnie J. Meadows, Robert N. Moon, William M. Moore, Rufus S. Moore, Jr., Lee R. Morgan, James R. Nichols, William F. Niemeyer, Johnny W. Ogle, Ivan A. Osborne, Glen W. Pack, Millard F. Parsley, Jr., Douglas Penland, Clark Peterson, Cecil Poore, James H. Price, Hugh P. Prince, Lester L. Pulley, Walter L. Rice, Jr., Early. D. Ryburn, Bobby J. Shelton, Simon P. Shelton, Clarence C. Stockton, Eugene H. Street, James E. Strickland, Jr., Leonard W. Taylor, James W. Teague, Carroll B. Tilson, Roy C. Tinker, Roy C. Tinker, Lattie Tipton, Michael Tolley, Jack M. Turner, Edward M. Vogel, Hugh L. Waldrop, Allen E. White, Benjamin D. White, Marvin L. Williams, Paul Williams, Eugene Wilson, Ralph Wilson and Clyde R. Wishon.