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A Denney for Your Thoughts: Patriotism’s alive and well

By Connie Denney

Whether you clicked onto your planning calendar or literally turned the page, I hope you paused a moment over Tuesday, June 14.  A couple of online clicks trace the history of Flag Day, the observance honoring the American flag since the early days of our country.

There ae numerous rules of etiquette for handling of the flag.  My thoughts, though, turn to a human voice I remember promoting the expression of respect due the symbol of freedoms Americans enjoy, freedoms others have died to win and defend.

Glenn Tilson says he flies the flag every pretty day at the Erwin home he shares with wife Carol.  He is aware of the rules relative to weather, illumination after dark, etc.  He enjoys seeing the red, white and blue banner flying freely, but is especially concerned about continued use of worn, tattered flags.  Quick to note the need to replace and properly dispose of them, he drew attention to a receptacle outside the Chamber of Commerce building, Main Avenue, where old flags may be deposited.  Cathy Huskins, the Chamber’s executive assistant, told me she sees people using the box, which originated as an Eagle Scout project a while back.

Himself a career military veteran, Tilson served abroad, including in Vietnam, as well as stateside locales, in the areas of security, law enforcement and investigation.  His formal education in geography and geology combined with his military work resulted in a three-year assignment teaching at West Point!  He was in the right place at the right time with the right background and picked up a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee on the way.

He later taught geology at East Tennessee State University, where he had gotten an undergraduate degree just before going into the Army years earlier.  Local folks may also remember him from his security work at Nuclear Fuel Services, or public service as alderman and vice mayor on Erwin’s governing body as well as other community organizations.

As the Unicoi County native recalled some of his own experiences, conversation turned to other veterans.  He had uncles who served in World War II, one of whom was in the Battle of the Bulge. He suffered frostbitten feet.  Glenn’s father-in-law, Dr. H. L. Monroe, was surgeon for a tank destroyer battalion in North Africa, performing surgeries in the back of a vehicle.  He was awarded the Silver Star Medal.  

These men didn’t talk much with their families about their wartime experiences, Glenn recalls.  Oh, how many times have we heard such comments from relatives of World War II and other veterans!

Although I did not ask him, I doubt Glenn hesitated when Martha Erwin asked him to help by serving as master of ceremonies for a special local event coming on the heels of Flag Day.

This community has established a culture of patriotism.  Consider flag-lined downtown streets on appropriate holidays, thanks to the Kiwanis Club, as well as those displayed at private homes on any given day.  The Veterans Memorial Park and the honor, respect and recognition given the Erwin Nine (a worthy WW II story of heroism on its own) are among the many reflections of this heritage of patriotism.

Tilson will emcee the ceremony for unveiling a Gold Star Memorial Marker at 1 p.m. Friday, June 17, at Erwin Town Hall, Main Avenue. The story behind this historical marker also has roots in Erwin.

Lattie Tipton of Erwin was among those who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Martha, curator of Unicoi Heritage Museum and Clinchfield Railroad Museum, both on the grounds of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, told me a while back about Lattie Tipton and Audie Murphy’s wartime friendship. Yes, THE Audie Murphy, World War II hero and film star!  

When I saw the televised movie “To Hell and Back,” based on Murphy’s memoir by the same title, I recognized the dramatic scene including Tipton’s character although a different name was used.

When the opportunity to bring recognition to the hometown of Lattie Tipton presented itself—by way of an out-of-towner recognizing the importance of that story — it is no surprise that Martha, lover of all things of local historical importance, saw to it.  Of course, this story’s importance goes far beyond local.  

Look for Richard Rourk’s related news story at

May we all have a greater appreciation for Independence Day July Fourth.  Have a safe one.