My Turn

Story published: 12-26-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

B. Carroll Reece served well in war and in Congress

By Jack Swift

As I was growing up in Johnson County and was around folks talking politics, it seem to me as I reflect on those times that the one name that I heard mentioned most was Congressman B. Carroll Reece. I think it is fair to say that he was well liked by his constituents. His re-election so many times is proof enough. He became an institution as Representative from the First Congressional District that included Johnson County. He was elected as a republican to the Sixty-Seventh and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1921 to March 3, 1931). He failed to win re-election in 1930 to the Seventy-second Congress but he was elected to the Seventy-third and to the six succeeding Congresses.

Brazilla Carroll Reece was born on December 22, 1889, near Old Butler on a farm on the Watauga River. He was from a family of 13 children. His father was John Isaac Reece and his mother was Sarah Emiline Maples Reece. He attended public schools in Johnson County and was a graduate of Watauga Academy. He also was a graduate of Carson-Newman College, New York University and the University of London.

In May of 1917, Reece enlisted in World War I and served with the American Expeditionary Forces from October 1917 until July 1919. During his military career he distinguished himself as a brave and steady leader. He was awarded both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Metal — a rare achievement indeed. He also was awarded the Purple Heart, France Croix de Guerre with Palm for his courageous service. His political career began following his war service. Congressman Reece died in the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, Maryland on March 19, 1961. He is buried at Monte Vista Memorial Park, Johnson City, Tennessee. He also has a museum at East Tennessee State University named in his honor.

I recently came across a copy of Reece’s speech to the Watauga Academy graduating class of 1942. In his speech he says he and Miss Donna Pearce comprised the first graduating class of Watauga Academy — the class of 1911.

He said in that speech: “Change is going on throughout the whole world. Ancient institutions are being overturned. Empires are disintegrating. The ramparts of liberty and enlightenment are being assailed by the legions of dictators, despots, and world marauders. We are at this moment engaged in a great world conflict to turn back the phalanxes of those despots who would strangle liberty, shackle free peoples and make them serfs and slaves. We are face to face, after 150 years of building up this great new experiment in human freedom, an experiment based upon the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, upon the concept of the Constitution as organic law upon the Bill of Rights as the inherent rights of men, to the task now of proving, of demonstrating, that free men and women, that liberty-loving men and women, can outbuild, outproduce, outthink, and outfight the hosts of those who are driven before the lashes and the bayonet of the minions of the despots.”

Is any of that eloquent speech applicable in concept to what is going on today? Today, Seventy-one years since that speech, freedom loving men and women who are serving in America’s military also are fighting the forces of those who would take our liberty from us if they could.