'And miles to go before I sleep'- Old Butler native visits gravesites of American war veterans around the World.
  
   "When you see what a great country we have, we should be willing to stand up and defend our country at all costs," said CMSgt. Sara Sellers, USAF (Ret.) of Elizabethton.
  
By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   Sara Sellers, a native of Old Butler, is traveling around the World to serve thousands of American military heroes she will never have the opportunity to meet.
   President George Bush, recently, appointed Sarah to the American Battle Monuments Commission, one of 11 on the Commission.
   By law, Commissioners are responsible for designing, constructing, operating and maintaining American military burial grounds in the U. S. and on foreign soil.
   Commissioners ensure "the dignity of cemeteries and monuments are maintained and not degrading to military laid to rest there," she said.
   Sara's interest in military service comes naturally. Her father, Carson Whitehead, fought in the Spanish-American War and was a member of The White House Honor Guard for President William McKinley.
   Recently, Sara visited the cemetery in Normandy, France, where so many Americans are buried.
   "The saddest thing I have experienced was when I went to Normandy and asked if anyone from Tennessee was buried there. There was one, Clyde Whitehead."
   Ironically, Sara has a brother, Clyde Whitehead, who served in the military. "I knew it wasn't him because he returned home safely after military service in Germany."
   Sara learned it was Clyde Whitehead of Siam who was buried in Plot D, Row 17, Grave 5 in the cemetery in Normandy. He was a military policeman when he died July 3, 1944.
   "You feel the presence of the Lord," she said, while standing in the Normandy cemetery, surrounded by white marble crosses that mark the final resting place of so many American servicemen and women.
   She placed a bouquet of roses beside the grave marker of Clyde Whitehead of Siam. "When they played taps, my tears began to flow."
   When Sara returned to Elizabethton, she brought photographs of Clyde's grave to members of his family in Siam, along with small plastic bags of sand and rocks from Omaha Beach where he had gone ashore.
   All seven of her brothers returned home safely after serving in the armed services.
   Sara joined the Air Force when she graduated from Happy Valley High School. In October, 1981, she retired as Chief Master Sergeant after 30 years military service.
   "I never regretted it one minute."
   Sara said she had some great assignments, including Korea, Germany, Spain, Okinawa, Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
   She was assigned to the Pentagon twice. "I worked in the E-Ring which was damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack."
   Sara was also assigned to the Strategic Air Command Headquarters, a missile base in Grand Forks, N.D., and Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
   "I love the military. I enjoyed every minute of it and tried to be the best solider I could be.
   "When you see what a great country we have, we should all be willing to stand up and defend our country at all costs.
   "Many military men and women sacrifice their lives. They are away from their families. They miss out on a lot of things. They too are very patriotic and willing to give their time."
   The number of American servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is staggering.
   Sara has stood among rows and rows of headstones made from white marble. Those of the Jewish faith have a tapered marble shaft surrounded by the Star of David.
   The headstone of unidentified World War I veterans are inscribed "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known only to God."
   Since American armed services were multinational during World War II, headstones of the unknown were changed to read "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arm known only to God."
   On foreign soils, there are 24 permanent American burial grounds, 21 separate monuments and three markers in France, Belgium, Italy, England, the Netherlands, Philippines, N. Africa and Saipan.
   In the U.S., there are four memorials.
   There are 124,914 American veterans buried in these cemeteries, including 130,921 from World War I, 93,243 from World War II, and 750 from the Mexican War. Another 5,977 are buried in Mexico City.
   Individuals are listed by name on stone tablets at World War I and World War II cemeteries and three memorials on U. S. soil.
   In addition, another 94,132 service men and women, nurses, Red Cross were either missing in action or lost or buried at sea.
   In 1923, Congress enacted legislation to create the Commission. President Warren G. Hardin appointed Gen. John J. Pershing its first chairman. Today, General P.K. Kelley is chairman.
   Sara's husband is symphatheic about her Worldly travels to serve fallen veterans.
   Chief Master Sergeant Mike Sellers also served 30 years in the Air Force before he retired.
   The two met while he was stationed at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, TX.
   After an 18-month courtship, they got married and Sara was sent to England and Mike to Bermuda. "He got the better part of the assignments. In those days, husband and wife did not necessarily receive the same assignment," she said.
   Sara and Mike, who was in the Air Force security police, were reunited at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, where the two were later assigned.
   They retired to Elizabethton to allow Sara to spend time with her mother before she died at age 96.
   Her father passed away while she was stationed at Air University.
   Some have asked, "You've been to Paris and Rome. Why would you want to come back to Carter County to retire?
   "Because it is a wonderful, beautiful place to live and I love it," she was quick to reply.
   Husband Mike is from South Carolina.
   The are no children, "just lots of dogs, cats and birds."
   Sara looks forward to the proposed Veterans War Memorial Park being built in downtown Elizabethton to honor 186 Carter Countians who paid the supreme sacrifice in all wars.
   She is also looking forward to the completion of the $175 million National War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Former Sen. Bob Dole and Fred Smith of Federal Express, Memphis, are co-chairs.
   World War II veterans are dieing at the rate of 1,500 per day. "Of the 16 million who served in uniform, there are only 5 million left."
   Sara hopes the project will be completed soon to allow more World War II veterans to participate in the dedication of the memorial.