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World War II combat veteran highlights Elizabethton Veterans Day observance

John Thompson • Nov 11, 2019 at 9:47 PM

ELIZABETHTON — There were once more than 12 million service personnel from what has been called America’s greatest generation who distinguished themselves in World War II.

But from that mighty multitude, there are often no World War II veterans in attendance at Veterans Day ceremonies.

That was why Earl Ellis Jr. was one of the highlights of the annual Elizabethton Veterans Day Service at the Elizabethton/Carter County Veterans War Memorial.

Ellis is 96 years old and will turn 97 on March 12. But he was only 19 when he went to enlist in the Navy. He said Tokyo Rose provided the strong incentive to join up. He remembers hearing Tokyo Rose on the radio, boasting about the Japanese victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea. He knew he was needed in the Navy.

According to his son, Ron, and daughter-in-law, Dee, Ellis went to a recruiter, who told him he had to be 21 in order to sign up without parental permission. The recruiter gave him some forms and told Ellis to get his father to sign one form and his mother to sign the other. Ellis went out of the recruiting office, walked down the hall and then signed one of his parents’ name on one of the forms, using his right hand. He then signed his other parent’s name on the other form, using his left hand to sign the document.

He then returned to the recruiter, who looked at the forms and said to Ellis “dang, you got them signed.”

Eric Montgomery is one person outside the Ellis family who has talked with him over the past few years about his World War II service. Montgomery is a World War II re-enactor who was wearing a World War II era sailor’s uniform on Veterans Day.

Montgomery even took Ellis to see the movie “Midway.” It was the first time Ellis had been in a movie theater in years.

From his visits with Ellis, Montgomery said he learned that the veteran had quite an eventful war. He was an aviation machinist, 2nd class, and served in the extremely dangerous duty as a ball turret gunner on a Grumman Avenger. One of his assignments was with Torpedo Squadron 9 on the U.S.S. Yorktown, CV-10. Among the actions he was involved in was the sinking of the Yamato, the biggest battleship ever built, and the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The master of ceremonies at Monday’s Veterans Day observance was Elizabethton Mayor Pro Tem Bill Carter. He is also a member of the Elizabethton/Carter County War Memorial Oversight Committee. Carter spoke in front of the large polished granite stones that bear the names of Carter County service members who were killed in action in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. He said the stones bear the names of 258 Carter Countians.

Carter said the stones include 49 names from World War I, 155 names from World War II, 20 names from the Korean War, 30 names from the Vietnam War, and three from the Gulf War and Enduring Freedom.

Carter said there are plans to expand the Elizabethton/Carter County Veterans Walk of Honor by building another wall, which will allow more Carter County veterans to have their names added to the wall for their service. It will adjoin the Veterans Walk of Honor for veterans who were not included in the first go-around and for the next generation of veterans.

Carter also praised those who worked to turn the dream of a veterans’ wall into a reality. He said it began as a plan to honor Korean War veterans but was expanded to include all veterans from the 20th and 21st centuries. Carter praised the door-to-door solicitation work of Deacon Bowers and Roy Merryman.

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