Celebration of VA centennial begins

Photo by Dave Boyd Secretary of VeteranÕs Affairs Anthony J. Principi spoke to a crowd of hundreds who gathered at the VA Mountain Home centennial celebration opening ceremony Friday morning.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
MOUNTAIN HOME -- Hundreds of people gathered Friday morning to kick off the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Quillen Veterans Administration Medical Center at Mountain Home.
Several local and state officials, as well as representatives from the national government and dignitaries from the Royal Hospital Chelsea in England, attended the ceremony which was held Friday morning at the bandstand at the VA, which was once the heart of activity at the Home when it first opened.
Among those who spoke at the opening ceremony of the centennial celebration were Dr. Carl J. Gerber, director of the QVAMC; Congressman Bill Jenkins; Senator Lamar Alexander; Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi; and Major John Tatham, of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
In his address to the crowd in attendance, Principi noted the history of Mountain Home. "The halls and walls of Mountain Home embrace a century of history. The men and women who come here for treatment write the most recent chapters. Their scars and injuries show the true cost of war," he said. "From our heartland we sent our very best to fight against the very worst. They come back to the heartland to start their lives over and partake of the liberties they so selflessly defend."
Principi also spoke about the responsibilities our nation has to ensuring that its veterans are properly cared for. "They put their hearts into their service and we must do no less for them," he said. "Each of them was willing to risk their life for our liberties."
Jenkins also spoke to the audience of the history of the facility and he told the crowd of how Mountain Home was part of a vision by President Abraham Lincoln that he shared with the nation in his second inaugural address. In his address, Lincoln spoke of the nation's responsibilities to its veterans and the idea he had for creating homes for veterans who had served the Union during the Civil War and had become disabled.
Lincoln's original plan had included the funding of 10 such homes but initially only eight were funded by the federal government when the Board who oversaw the creation and management of the Homes decided to not fund any additional Homes. "Even in 1901, there were bureaucrats and there were boards and in 1901 there was a board that said they had funded all they were going to fund," Jenkins said. "The funding of Mountain Home was largely due to the perseverance of one man."
Jenkins went on to tell those in attendance about how Walter P. Brownlow, who served as Congressman from the First District of Tennessee in 1901, had gone before the Board and in three minutes convinced them to fund the creation of another branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in the First District.
Mountain Home also owes part of its success to another congressman from the First District of Tennessee, former Congressman James H. Quillen, who was largely responsible for gaining funding to allow for the establishment of a College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University which works very closely with the VA Medical Center, both of which now bear his name.
At the ceremony, a memorial stone to commemorate the centennial of Mountain Home was unveiled which bears both the original seal of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and the current seal for the VA Medical Center at Mountain Home. The memorial stone is located next to the walkway leading up to the bandstand.
A variety of activities are planned from now through Oct. 4 to celebrate the centennial of the facility.