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Hometown Heroes remembered on the streets of Erwin

Sue Guinn Legg • May 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM

ERWIN — Unable to gather for the annual Memorial Day ceremony, the people of Erwin have instead dressed their town in the most patriotic of styles to honor and remember their veterans.

Thirty-six banners bearing the photos, branches of service and abbreviated notes of the sacrifices made by Erwin’s Hometown Heroes were raised on light posts throughout downtown on Wednesday.

Just in time for this week’s Memorial Day observance, the banners will continue to fly over the town through July 4.

Among them are the young faces of the locally famed “Erwin Nine,” nine Army Air Corpsmen who flew separately over Europe during World War II, each shot down, all held in German prison camps and all surviving to return home to a town that will forever revere them.

Also there is Hazel McInturff Berry, who served with the nation’s first class of US Navy WAVES during WWII.

And among those who gave all are Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in an ambush of his Army Special Forces unit in Mogadishu in 2017; Air Force veteran Benjamin White, who was killed in action in Afghanistan; and Lt. Douglas Jones, who was killed during his Army service in Vietnam.

Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said the tribute was made possible by Erwin area residents who responded to a newspaper advertisement inviting them to contribute photos of loved ones with military service to be honored by the town.

The result was the 18 doubled-sided banners now on display along Main Avenue and Second and Love streets.

Rice said she had seen similar tribute several years ago while in Pittsburgh for a conference; the project has been on her to-do list since then.

“It’s really been a pleasure to do for all the people in our community. A lot of those who were killed in action, it’s been decades and these families are still grieving.”

Rice said the first group of Hometown Heroes banners will remain in use for two years, after which the invitation will be extended again to honor more of the bravest men and women of Erwin.