Wreaths of honor

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Austin Manier, Louis Simmons and Frank Cantrell stand guard after laying wreaths at one of the monuments to troops who came from Marshall County and died at war.

New wreaths were placed at the memorials on the Marshall County Courthouse lawn on Monday to honor troops from here who died in battle defending the America's way of life.

"Marshall County has given as much, per capita" as any other county in Tennessee, state Rep. Eddie Bass (D-Prospect) said during Memorial Day ceremonies on the County Courthouse steps.

Bass noted six more American troops perished recently as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His audience of approximately 100 was "better than what we've seen at other times," he said.

The right to peaceable assembly is guaranteed by troops who made the ultimate sacrifice, Bass said. The right to be somewhere else at that time is also guaranteed by that freedom of choice.

American military troops who died in war can no longer tell their stories, but those who made it home are the best source of information about what their comrades' last days were like, according to Marshall County senior staff writer Clint Confehr whose remarks during the ceremony included examples of lives led well to honor the dead.

Legion Post Commander Larry Hastings reminded the audience that Post 1509 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars continued the tradition of a midday meal at VFW Headquarters here where stories of military service were shared.

As usual, combat stories were not volunteered and family stories came forward, providing a view of lives overshadowed by a world war and a nation's recovery.

Julene Smith, whose first husband was a military veteran, remarried four years ago to another vet, Don Smith. She admired him as an upperclassman on the football field at Marshall County High School.

Julene's first husband, Charles E. Hay, fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against Japan and was fought between Aug. 7, 1942, and Feb. 9, 1943, in the Pacific theatre.

"He wouldn't talk to me about it," she said.

Time passed and, as a widow, she was advised by her children to "get out of the house," she said.

Then, one day some 60 years after high school, Don called Julene, "and we clicked," she said. Over lunch at the VFW clubhouse, she said, "We've had a fabulous four years."

Don's military experience was different. He volunteered after graduating from MCHS. His first assignment was to be in Memphis for radio training, "but the war ended in August, so they closed the school and sent me to the South Pacific."

Including his six months there and service as a reservist, Don's total time in the military was 13 months.

"I was lucky," he said. "I got all the privileges and GI (Bill of) Rights."

He went to Columbia Business College in Columbia, some 25 miles east of where he was living here and then was hired by J.L. (Leonard) Cathey as a cashier at Peoples and Union Bank.

Also Monday, Edwin Scott, one of the speakers during a previous Memorial Day ceremony, reported "One hundred and two of us went to Washington, D.C. on May 11."

It was another annual Honor Flight, arranged by volunteers to be sure that World War II veterans see the monument to their service. They also went to the 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery where, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there was a special and subtle salute to the visiting veterans.

First Farmers Senior Trust Officer Barry White and his wife, Sherry, and car dealer Eddie Roberts and his wife, Donna, of Lewisburg were escorts for the trip, as was Mike Allen, a pharmacist in Nashville and son of veteran James Lee Allen.

Mike Allen was impressed with the organization of the Music City Honor Flight to Washington's Reagan National Airport and back to Nashville in one day.

"Washington, D.C. is a special place," Mike Allen said.

New wheelchairs were available for vets who needed them.

"This was a very humbling experience for me," James Lee Allen said in a telephone interview. "I didn't feel worthy of the reception we got. I know some of them did because they were in some real situations."

James Lee Allen had never flown in an airplane before and felt honored to be met by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) who is originally from Shelbyville. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Nashville) sent two aides to greet the vets.

Allen was a gunner among 21 other sailors on a merchant ship, the S.S. James Oliver, that carried food and supplies.

"I had a real friend who was killed in World War II," Allen said, naming James C. McDaniel, 19, of Lewisburg who was killed in the Philippines on Jan. 5, 1945.

He read the information from a book saying McDaniel died with 56 men in a gun turret on the Battleship California. It was sunk in Pearl Harbor, raised, repaired and sent off to war.

McDaniel attended Cornersville High School for three years and graduated from MCHS on May 13, 1943, and joined the Navy on July 17, 1943, Allen said.

McDaniel is remembered, as were others on Monday.