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Three bridges may soon bear the names of Carter County veterans

John Thompson • Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 7:06 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Three bridges in Carter County may soon be named in honor of three Army veterans who were from the county.

In three separate votes after holding separate public hearings, the Highway Committee of the Carter County Commission voted unanimously Monday to name bridges after Command Sgt. Maj. James Caroll Gilbert, Spc. 4th Class Gary D. Murray, and Owen Ray Church, who held the rank of specialist 4th class when he served in active duty.

Gilbert and Murray were killed in action in Vietnam and Gilbert was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat that can be awarded to members of the Army. He was the most highly decorated Carter Countian who fought in the Vietnam War.

The Highway Committee voted to name a bridge on U.S. Highway 19E in Hampton that spans Laurel Fork for Gilbert. The committee designated a bridge near the intersection of Gap Creek Road and Marion Branch Road that spans Gap Creek in honor of Murray. The committee voted to name the bridge on Poga Road that crosses the Elk River in honor of Church.

Church enlisted in 1960 and served as a radio telephone operator assigned to 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga. He was honorably discharged in 1963. After his service, he returned to his home and became a master carpenter who spent many years building homes atop Beech Mountain.

Murray graduated from Happy Valley High School in 1964 and enlisted in the Army. He served as a medical noncommissioned officer with 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division and was killed in action on May 24, 1967, during a battle in Pleiku Province, Vietnam.

Gilbert enlisted in the Army in 1947 and was a 22-year veteran at the time of his death. He was serving as sergeant major for the Operations Section of the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division on March 12, 1969, when he died in an act of self-sacrifice in which he was credited with saving the helicopter he was in, its crew and his unit commander.

The Highway Committee will present the three bridge naming resolutions to the Carter County Commission on Feb. 20.

Because the bridge to be named in Gilbert’s honor is on a state highway, the County Commission will request legislative action by the Tennessee General Assembly to allow the naming.

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