Navy veteran Bob Wiggins and his wife, Patsy, enjoy the Veterans Day Lunch hosted by the Town of Unicoi. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Over the weekend the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi held special events to pay tribute to local veterans.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, more than 70 veterans came to the Unicoi Buffalo Conference Room in the Town of Unicoi Visitors Center to enjoy a lunch prepared in their honor.

The 7th annual Veterans Lunch was provided by the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Unicoi History Group. There were freshly made sandwiches, soups, cornbread, sides, and numerous desserts for veterans and anyone that came to celebrate and honor our local heroes.

The original Veterans Lunches were held at the Bogart-Bowman Cabin, but the event has recently moved to the Unicoi Buffalo Conference Room.

“We moved here because it was easier access for our local veterans,” Town of Unicoi History Chair Pat Lynch told The Erwin Record.

The veterans packed the conference room and enjoyed the homemade meal and the camaraderie.

“This is my first time taking part in the lunch at the conference room,” Bob Wiggins, a 30-year Navy veteran and local craftsman, said. “I went a few times when we did this at the cabin. I just enjoy getting out in the community.”

Wiggins was enjoying the lunch with his wife, Patsy. Another veteran enjoying the event was 42-year Army veteran and Department of Defense retiree Jack Gouge.

“I enjoyed my service and I would do it all over again, given the chance,” Gouge said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor and Army medic veteran Johnny Lynch was on hand to take part in the event.

“Every town needs to recognize their veterans,” Lynch exclaimed.

Army veteran Dennis Mull, who represents the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9, was on hand to speak to veterans about benefits that may be available to them. The DAV assists veterans that may have been injured or experienced health issues related to their service.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran that is in need of information for DAV, please visit http://www.davmembersportal.org/chapters/tn/09.

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The Town of Erwin held its annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park next to Gentry Stadium.

“The Veterans Memorial Park has been around for 10 years and was funded by donations, it is important to remember our vets,” Army veteran Jack Gouge told The Erwin Record.

Bill Hensley started the ceremony off by acknowledging the floral spray that a local Girl Scout Troop donated to the park. The Unicoi County High School Air Force JROTC presented the colors, while Edgar Rice led the attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.   Reverend Craig Shelton led the invocation and Allan Foster sang the National Anthem.

Lou Thornberry was the keynote speaker. Thornberry acknowledged all the veterans in attendance by era. World War I was discussed as this was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“Veteran’s Day is on Nov. 11 to celebrate veterans, but it is also a day to celebrate peace,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry in 1917 Erwin was a “boom town.”

“They expected 30,000 people to fill Erwin and then something happened, and that was World War I,” Thornberry said.

For Unicoi County, there were 318 men in World War I. Of that number, 145 were born in Unicoi County. There were 123 born outside of Tennessee and the remaining 50 were born in Tennessee but outside of Unicoi County.

“These men gave their home post office addresses as their birthplace,” Thornberry said. According to the information Thornberry received from Tennessee State Library and Archives, of the 318 that served from Unicoi County, 10 were killed in World War I. There were 16 men from Unicoi County who were wounded during World War I.

Following Thornberry’s comments, Foster led the attendees in a rousing rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes addressed the crowd next and shared plans for work that needs to be done at the park.

“The roof on the building is faded and the monuments need updating,” Haynes said.

In the future, there will be a fundraiser for updates to Veterans Memorial Park. If you are interested in donating to the cause, please contact Terry Haynes, Bill Hensley, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely or Mayor Doris Hensley for more details.