By Marlana Ward
When the veterans of Johnson County need assistance with government forms, learning what programs are available to them, or just an ear to listen, the man they turn to is Ralph Hutto. Being a Marine Corps veteran himself, Hutto understands the concerns of the veterans and is eager to help the area’s heroes however he can.
Hutto spent four years serving our country in the Marines. His role in the service was part of the classified nuclear testing division where he held a top-secret crypto clearance. Hutto’s service in the dangerous, nuclear program helped further America’s defensive and offensive capabilities.
After the service, Hutto began working in the civilian sector. “I was a shipping clerk, then went to work for Standard Theatre,” Hutto recalled. “I was Vice President and General Manager of Piedmont Popcorn. It was considered revolutionary when I had the idea to put popcorn in tins and bushel bags. We added college logos and sent them all over the country. I sent several to the White House.”
It was in 1990 that Hutto came to Mountain City. Hutto had met and fell in love with his wife, Fran Wilson, who lived in Johnson County, and he moved his life to our small community right away. Though he still had to travel for work, Hutto became involved with the veteran’s organizations in Mountain City quickly. “I joined the Honor Guard and met some wonderful people here,” said Hutto. In addition to the Honor Guard, Hutto also became a member of the local American Legion post where his relationship with the area veterans grew.
When it came time for Cliff Dunn to retire, Hutto was asked if he would be interested in taking the position due to his experience with community veterans and previous experience with the Veterans Service office. “I was working with Karen when I was the Service Officer for the American Legion, and I was in the Honor Guard,” he said. “When Cliff Dunn retired around 2010, they voted that I take the position due to my experience and the county mayor approved.”
The Veterans Service office of Mountain City is dedicated to not only filing paperwork on behalf of veterans but also in taking the time to ensure that veterans understand their rights and how to file their forms appropriately. “Karen and I take time to help the veterans,” Hutto explained. “Our county is 13th out of over 90 counties in the state when it comes to revenue per veteran.”
Hutto shared the special role that Karen Manuel has played in the office for the several years she has been a part of the department: “Karen takes the time to fill out papers and forms for the veterans when they cannot. She doesn’t simply tell them to fill out the forms and bring them back.”
When it comes to the financial difficulties of area veterans, Hutto explains how Johnson County’s agricultural roots become a factor in figuring payments. “Because this is farming country, people raised beans and tobacco and they never paid anything into the system so that when it came time for them to retire, there is nothing for them to draw,” he said. “I find many of those situations where I try to help.”
It is the satisfaction that Hutto receives from helping a veteran or veteran’s widow that keeps him working when many men his age have retired. “I get satisfaction helping a widow go from surviving on $200 a month to $800 and seeing her smile,” shared Hutto. “Or also if I can help a veteran get something that they weren’t aware of.”
Hutto also expresses the feelings of pride and patriotism he feels when veterans enter his office and feel like they have no reason to expect help as a former serviceman. “A lot of guys don’t think they deserve it. A lot of veterans feel that way,” added Hutto. “Guys will come in here to apply for disability, and I will look at their file and see Bronze Stars and Distinguished Service Awards, and you would never know. I see quite a few of those. This community, as small as it is, has a lot of heroes.”
When it comes to Johnson County, Hutto is proud of our area’s dedication and respect for its veterans. He is glad to see the Honor Guard be able to go into the schools and teach the students proper flag etiquette and to see the support for the Poppy Drives that take place twice a year. When asked one of his proudest moments during his time in Johnson County, Hutto shared: “When US Army Spc. Frederick Greene was honored, it was a solemn occasion, but I was glad that we recognized him as we did with the bridge being named after him. This community does a lot of good things.”
The Johnson County Community is blessed to have men and women such as Hutto and other veterans who not only offered themselves in combat or military service in their youth but also continue their service to the country by caring for and supporting vets young and old. Whether it be through the Veterans Affairs Office, the American Legion, the VFW, or the Honor Guard, Hutto and others like him make our area a symbol of patriotism and respect for those who have fought for our freedoms.