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Kerry Gentry … a proud heritage spanning generations of Johnson Countians

By Lacy Hilliard
Kerry Gentry is proud of his Appalachian heritage. As a lifelong resident, he has seen Johnson County through a lifetime of change. Gentry’s historical knowledge of Johnson County combined with his interesting lineage paints an elaborate portrait of days gone by.
As Daniel Boone trekked through the unmapped Appalachian region, he happened across three trappers: John Honeycutt, Andrew Greer, and Julius Dugger who from that point forward became known as the first white settlers in Johnson County. With a little help from the Johnson County Historical Society, Kerry Gentry can trace his lineage all the way back to Squire Boone Sr., Daniel Boone’s father. It’s amazing to think that as Boone passed through the lush green Roan Valley, he was setting up the beginnings of Gentry’s long Johnson County heritage.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of Kerry Gentry’s lineage is the long line of military service that can be traced all the way back to Benjamin Greer and the Battle of King’s Mountain in the Revolutionary War. He also has ancestors that fought on both sides of the Civil War. Israel Cole fought for the Confederacy and Valiant Hawkins fought on the side of the Union as a member of the 13th Tennessee Calvary. Gentry’s great-great grandfather fought in the Spanish American War, his great grandfather in World War I, and his father in World War II. Kerry Gentry is a veteran of the Vietnam War. As a young man that had spent his entire life in the seclusion of Johnson County, arriving in Vietnam was life changing for Gentry. Up until the time he arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, the furthest away he had been from home was a trip to the beach when he was about eight years old. Arriving in a hostile foreign country would be intimidating to anyone, but it was his arrival in O’Hare Field in Chicago that Gentry refers to as his first experience with a ‘foreign country.’ The young Gentry was amazed at the sheer volume of people, more than he had ever seen at one time. When he arrived in Cam Ranh Bay and exited the plane onto the tarmac, he said the heat nearly knocked him down and the humidity was oppressive- a far cry from the cool summer evenings and snowy winters of his home in Johnson County. Gentry was also amazed at the relaxed nature of the troops that had already set up shop in Vietnam. What he would soon learn is that the reclined nature of his comrades could change in an instant when hostile mortars began to fly. Gentry wrote to his mother from Vietnam each week and as his time there lingered on, the homesickness became palpable. He recalled the kindness of his military brethren on a particularly lonely day in Vietnam on the 27th of December, Gentry’s birthday. He recalls lying in his bunk and feeling completely cut-off from his Johnson County home. Just as the loneliness became evermore consuming, his fellow soldiers entered the barracks with a Milky Way candy bar, complete with a candle. Gentry remembers the kind gesture as though it was yesterday and he wonders if the men knew how much it meant to a young country boy that was so far away from home.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.