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WWII Veteran highlights Memorial Day services

Under a hot and sunny sky, a group of Johnson Countians gathered to pay honor and respect to the fallen members of each branch of the military. The Memorial Day program held at Ralph Stout Park was a tribute to all servicemen and women who gave of themselves to keep Americans free and safe from harm.
Robert Hensley served as the master of ceremonies for the 2011 Memorial Day Program. Hensley, an Air Force Veteran, is also the East Tennessee Vice Commander for the American Legion. The program began with the Presentation of Colors by the Johnson County Honor Guard, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Nancy Davis.
This year, a very special guest was on hand to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Leon Anderson, an Army World War II Veteran, will be 100 years old on August 11th. Anderson served for four years in the Army Air Corp. With the assistance of a few people including Congressman Phil Roe, Anderson stood and began to recite those words that mean so much to Americans, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
After the Posting of Colors by the Johnson County Honor Guard, Kerry Gentry, an Army Veteran, delivered a powerful “America the Beautiful” and “You Are Not Forgotten.” Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble paid tribute to the many who served their country. “Without you, who knows how different this country would be,” Keeble said in reference to members of the military service. He asked that we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. “The very least we can do is to thank you, and mostly respect you,” said Keeble.
“We can't thank our veterans enough,” said Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter, as he spoke about those who put their entire lives on hold to guarantee the safety and security of Americans. “I thank God for the freedom we have in the United States of America as we know it,” said Potter. Thanking those who have served their country, he said, “We just can't thank them enough.” He also asked those in attendance to recognize and thank members of the service. “If you see a veteran or members of the service, go up and say thank you,” said Potter in closing.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey thanked the veterans for their service and dedication. Ramsey's father was a veteran who has passed away, and he shared that not a day goes by that he doesn't think about his father. “Thank you for allowing me to serve you in the State Senate,” said Ramsey, “It's something I never take for granted.”
Before the keynote speaker, Congressman Phil Roe, addressed the audience, Nancy Davis gave a beautiful rendition of “Those Who Served.” Before the beginning of “God Bless America,” Davis invited the audience to join her in song. Soft voices joined Davis as her voice raised in song.
Congressman Phil Roe spoke from his heart on what Memorial Day means to him on a personal level. Roe grew up in a military town, and when the Vietnam War broke out, it hit their community. Roe added that each week, the local newspaper would publish a list of those local servicemen and women who were killed or wounded.
As Roe recalled his Boy Scout leader who had meant so much to him as a youth who died in the line of service to his country, there was a moment when it was difficult for him to continue. With a break in his voice, he shared, “He never had a chance to have grandchildren because he died in service,” Roe continued. “This is a tough day for me to get through, as you can see.” He also spoke of another dear friend and fellow Eagle Scout who was killed in service. To this day, he carries these two people close to his heart. “Johnson County has given its treasures not long ago at Fort Hood, Texas,” Roe continued. Despite injuries where servicemen and women had lost one leg or two, or missing an arm, Roe relayed that they all had a good attitude. “Doc, I've seen a lot worse,” Roe relayed of his conversation with a man who was missing his left leg. ”I've just got a bad ankle.” In reference to caring for those who are wounded, “We have an obligation to care for them,” Roe added. He closed by thanking the sheriff and his department and emergency medical services for their work during the recent tornado that hit Johnson County. “They also made me proud,” said Roe.
In a moving ceremony, Dick Dionne, Commander of the Johnson County Honor Guard and Air Force Veteran, with the help of Congressman Roe, were able to present to Mr. Anderson a medal that he had been awarded years ago but had never received. This medal recognized his service during World War II in the Pacific campaign. Amid clapping from the audience, Roe pinned the medal on a smiling Anderson.
Terry Reece, an Army Veteran, stood and called out the names of Johnson County servicemen and veterans who died in the last year. As name after name continued, a hush fell over the people as they listened to the names of their fellow friends and neighbors who had passed away.
After a wreath presentation by the Johnson County Democratic Party and the Johnson County Republican Women, the group grew still as the Johnson County Honor Guard stood in position. Three loud and piercing cracks from a rifle salute pierced the solemn air before the beginning of Taps, marking the close of the pensive and patriotic Memorial Day tribute.