William was born on Columbus Day in 1946 to Madia Vember Callahan and Christopher Columbus Rhea Sr., as the seventh child and second boy of eight children. He grew up in the Carnegie community of Johnson City, Tennessee, where he graduated from Douglas Elementary School. William excelled academically and in sports, graduating as valedictorian from Langston High School in 1964. He was class secretary, a member of Hi-Y and an outstanding player for both Langston High School Tiger football and basketball teams.
He faithfully attended the church of his childhood, Church of Our Lord Jesus, Johnson City, and Eastlake Baptist Church, Killeen. After one year at East Tennessee State University, due to a knee injury and desire for full time work, William decided to follow his dream to enter the US Army.
He served in the United States Army for more than 30 years, directing more than 3,000 soldiers and achieving the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He retired in September 1997. CSM Rhea was highly decorated for leadership and valor and for saving the lives of fellow soldiers. He was recognized in the Chicago Tribune multiple times as the Army’s Top Recruiter and he was the original leader of the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Unit known as the “Night Stalkers”.
William held a Lifetime NAACP Membership, dutifully serving branches in Washington County/Johnson City and Killeen to assist Veterans, Voters’ Registration and Youth Committees. He was an active member of the Pro-To-Club and Community Benevolence Outreach. William supported several Youth Scholarships and Church Fellowships. He revitalized the clean up, restoration and and maintenance of Westlawn Cemetery in Johnson City. He assisted numerous veterans in receiving benefits they earned and deserved. William was a man of character, a father to his nieces and nephews and a positive influence in countless lives.
In addition to his parents, William was preceded in death by his sisters Kaisa, Pearl, Leah R. Trottie, Ida R. Butler and Carolyn R. Young; brothers James “Skippy” Rhea and Harold and Robert Murray. He leaves to celebrate his life one brother, Christopher “Lum” Rhea, Jr. (Virginia); brothers-in-law, Clinton Butler and Eugene Trottie; nieces and nephews Cheryl Rhea, Scott Malone, Shaun Malone, Kelly Trottie, Dennis Rhea, Vicki Rhea, James Butler, Tonya Butler, Mark Briscoe, Tara Murray-Richardson, George Murray, Walter Murray and Gretchen Murray; several grandnieces and grandnephews; many cousins; special mothers Laurice Coxe and Virginia Goines and a host of dear friends and loved ones.
A home-going celebration will begin at 1 p.m., Monday, April 8, 2019, at New Zion Faith Center, 1904 Jamestown Road, Johnson City, TN. The family will receive friends from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. At 12:30 p.m. until the time of the service, there will be a time of reflection from family, friends and loved ones. Interment will be at the VA Mountain Home National Cemetery following the service.
Professional services provided by Birchette Mortuary Inc. 219 E. Millard St. Johnson City TN. 423-926-6013 http://www.birchettemortuary.com