Veterans remember glory days

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sid Smith and Edwin Scott recall American history to mark Veterans Day in Marshall County this year.

Veterans, friends and family at Marshall County's Courthouse this morning would know combat as the tip of the spear that's supported by other assignments which are important and quite possibly more terrifying.

Consider those working in the isolation of an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile silo in remote areas of the United States where they know that if they complete the job for which they're trained, hundreds of thousands of people will die.

Consider an Army Signal Corpsman's job to keep communication lines open so that, for example, Franklin D. Roosevelt could communicate with generals fighting German Field Marshal Rommel, the Desert Fox, in North Africa, "or anybody else he wanted to," according to Edwin Scott, a retired telephone company employee.

Making sure such cables were working, when communications were through Trinidad, was Scott's assignment. He's the Marshall County man speaking on the east side of the county Courthouse today at 11 a.m. to tell another part of American military history that's important for area residents to remember on Veterans Day, or any other day of the year, because of Marshall County's role in making Tennessee the Volunteer State.

Scott, a former commander of the American Legion Post here, and his friend, Sid Smith, one of the soldiers whose finger was on the trigger for John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, spoke of their military service on Friday so their messages might reach a broader audience than those at a supper last night and the program this morning.

"It's fitting that we gather this morning at the courthouse square, a place of honor for those who have served and who have given their lives in defense of our country," Scott says in prepared remarks. "We owe them a debt that can never be repaid."

Scott's message echoes across the lawn marked with monuments for servicemen or, depending on the weather, off the walls of the Marshall County Community Theatre. A few blocks north in a church building, and some 17 hours earlier, Smith spoke of "things about veterans that most people don't know anything about... the men and women who manned the ICBM Force, who operated and control military satellites."

When he was on duty, there were several thousand of them in North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Texas, Arkansas, New York State, Nebraska and Washington State.

"I was in New Mexico at a missile silo during the Cuban Missile Crisis," he said. "It's probably the closest we've ever been to nuclear war.

"From the big picture perspective, it was the time I was most scared. I was convinced we were going to war," Smith said.

In April 1961, nearly a year and a half earlier than those frightening days as recalled by Smith, the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion failed to eject Fidel Castro's fledgling Communist rule.

Looking back on the subsequent days in October 1962, Smith agreed to this analogy: There was a finger on the hair trigger of a cocked gun. Later, when working on a missile, he reflected on his life then. There was probably someone like him on the other side of the world.

"I had a key and the go-code around my neck," Smith said of routine duty in a 180-foot deep silo.

His duty post during the crisis had B-52 bombers and after one tour of duty in the silo he emerged and saw six bombers lined up nose to tail with their crews in buses waiting for a boarding order.

The crisis passed with Kennedy's blockade of Cuba and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's promise to withdraw Russian missiles from Cuba if the U.S. Navy lifted its blockade of Cuban ports and the U.S. pledged not to invade Cuba.

For old soldiers, the events are recent history.

There's another history lesson. It's told by Scott.

"We all know Tennessee is called the Volunteer State," he says. "But you may not be aware that Marshall County played a major role in winning that name."

Fishing Ford Road between Belfast and Howell is an old Indian trail that Gen. Andrew Jackson followed to Fayetteville where he found 2,500 Tennesseans who'd volunteered to serve and protect their country.

They marched from Fayetteville, to Huntsville, down to the Tallapoosa River near Alexander City, Ala., to fight the Creek Indians, allies of the British in the War of 1812.

"The Battle of Horseshoe Bend completely defeated the Creek Indians and ensured America's success in a conflict that many consider to be our second war of independence," Scott says.

Davy Crockett and Sam Houston marched with Jackson, as well as Andrew Scott, one of Edwin Scott's ancestors. He knows others in the county are related to those whose names are inscribed on the monuments just east of the courthouse.

"Just as these monuments exist to remind us of those who made great sacrifices for our country, the American Legion exists because veterans need each other, but more importantly, our country needs our veterans.

"You cannot fight a war without veterans and while the idea of a society without war is appealing, let us not forget that wars have liberated slaves and stopped terrorists...

"When a member of Congress complains about the cost of a veterans program, remind the lawmaker of the cost of being a veteran," Scott said.

Acknowledging the origins of the nickname, Volunteer State, Smith points out that "We have a volunteer military now," and that "The majority of Americans are not involved."

And so, he's "concerned that without enough people involved, they will forget."

Smith says, "Every member of Congress should have been in the military" to know what it's like. He's concerned that there may not be enough people in this country to defend veterans, fund the GI Bill and keep the country's promise to those who serve in the military.

Scott agrees.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars hosts its annual dinner at the lodge on South Church Street after the 11 a.m. ceremony on Lewisburg's public square today. The lodge is the building with the sign that says, "Serving those in need to honor those who died."