(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
ELIZABETHTON — Carter County once again held two ceremonies to honor its veterans on Veterans Day. The Elizabethton/Carter County United Veterans Council held its ceremony at Elizabethton High School in front of the student body. That was followed by the Oversight Committee of the Elizabethton/Carter County Veterans War Memorial and Walk of Honor at its downtown memorial.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Sara Sellers was the featured speaker at the high school. She explained to the students the reason why veterans are honored.
“In a democracy, our military has a creative role, and that role is to be an agent of peace. The purpose is to deter war.” She said “the soldier prays for peace for he/she must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Sellers told the students that she had seen those wounds and scars in September, when she was invited to the Third Annual Warrior Open Golf Tournament hosted by the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative. She was there not to play golf, but to watch, cheer and encourage wounded warriors.
“I was amazed at what some of them were able to do,” Sellers told the students. “Some had lost a leg, an arm, an eye. ... They told me that events like golf help them in their recovery, both emotionally and spiritually. One warrior had undergone 25 operations on his leg, now it must be amputated. He said he was at peace with what lies ahead. Some of the warriors were very quiet. Most were upbeat and trying to enjoy life.”
She concluded by saying “let’s pray that some day peace might be a reality. I hope that in the hearts of those who hate us, the hate will die and the clouds of war no more shall face us.”
The Elizabethton High School choir, under the direction of Debbie Gouge, sang the poignant World War I lament, “Flanders Field.” To many veterans who have attended the ceremony for years, the song brought back memories of the former Broadway actor and blind World War II veteran Hal Frye, who annually recited “Flanders Field” with his powerful voice, filling Carter County and Elizabethton high school gymnasiums every Veterans Day.
Carter County Historian Scott Bowers was the speaker for the ceremony at the War Memorial.
As befitting a historian, Bowers traced the county’s tradition of military service back to the Overmountain Men in the Revolutionary War. He said so many men took up arms to meet the challenge of British Major Patrick Ferguson that the leaders had to institute a “reverse draft” to ensure enough men were left behind to defend the settlements from attacks by the Cherokee.
He went on to describe the county’s history of supplying well more than its share of soldiers for the nations wars of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. He said, “I find it extremely satisfying and proud to know that soldiers from this county participated in every major theater” of World War II. “This group of men have a very special place in my heart. I can’t exactly explain it. Throughout the years I have met quite a few. I have listened to their stories, watched the many emotions that ranged across their faces while they told of their experiences, their joy, their pain, of loss and gain. A few I had the honor to call my friend. I have never met a finer class of people in my life. The honor, sense of family and duty, and the tremendous character they display is inspiring beyond measure. I thank you for your service.”
He related the experiences of Carter Countians in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, again thanking them for their service.
He said the soldiers fought in Vietnam even though they were not supported by many back home. When they returned, he said they were not recognized as heroes, “but treated like criminals.” He said he was proud of them and considered them to be heroes.
He concluded by saying “every time a tyrannical hand cast its shadow of evil across this land, an American, a Tennessean, a son or daughter of Carter County, will be there to answer the warrior’s call and deal a swift terrible justice, so that we can enjoy the freedoms that many take for granted every day. To those future soldiers, I thank you for your future service.”