Hundreds witness dedication of war memorial

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

   Yesterday afternoon's gray sky offered a sober backdrop and the Elizabethton High School Band set the patriotic atmosphere for the dedication of the Elizabethton/Carter County War Memorial.
   Nearly 1,000 people attended the ceremony on Veterans Day that honored 256 Carter Countians killed in combat since World War I. After months of planning, the dedication ceremony succeeded in rousting local pride and sparking national patriotism.
   Retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Russell Sutton reminded the crowd of freedom's cost, and its price locally. Sutton briefly described Carter County's involvement in each war beginning with World War I and ending with Operation Enduring Freedom.
   The names of the servicemen killed in the wars were read out loud. Sutton spoke of the community's long and distinguished history of military service and sacrifice.
   "The word hero today has been worn by over use, but not in this park. Here, the nation's true heroes are honored," Sutton said. "The freedoms we all enjoy today are taken for granted by most people; however, freedom is not free. Many lives have been lost and other sacrifices have been made by men and women in uniform, by their families, loved ones and friends for the price of freedom."
   Decorated veterans and family members of fallen heroes unveiled the monuments representing each of the wars. The names of the deceased are inscribed in gold on the granite monuments.
   A 21-gun salute provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, the playing of "Taps", and a fly-over by a KC-135 air refueling tanker from the Tennessee Air National Guard in Knoxville followed the unveiling of the monuments.
   Soloist, Loretta Bowers and the men's choir from Phillippi Baptist Church provided the audience with a medley of patriotic songs to close out the ceremony.
   The Elizabethton/Carter County War Memorial committee has been working toward the completion of the memorial since 1997, and its members were pleased with the overall outcome of the dedication ceremony.
   "When we started out, we were thinking this is going to be a challenge, but we accepted the challenge, and we love it and are so excited and grateful for all the people that are here," committee member, Sara Sellers said following the ceremony.
   Several community leaders, veterans, men and women currently serving in the armed forces, and family members of fallen soldiers stood in the crowd of people gathered at the corner of Pine St. and East Elk Ave.
   Sgt. Ted Carter with the U.S. Army Airborne was one of several in uniform at the ceremony. The member of the Elizabethton Honor Guard knew three of the men whose names were from the Vietnam monument.
   Carter was impressed with the memorial and the community's dedication to its veterans. "This is one of the best things that I have ever seen here in Elizabethton in my life," Carter said.
   Linda Davis, Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis's mother, represented hundreds of mothers who have lost their children in combat over the years. Her son's name was the last to be read during the ceremony, and she realized the occasion brought back feelings of sorrow for other families who have lost loved ones.
   "All of these people, we've all got the same feelings. We have the same interest here," Davis said.
   Elizabethton Mayor, Sam LaPorte was among the community leaders present at the dedication. He was pleased with how the community worked to make the War Memorial a reality. He said the memorial is the latest illustration of the community's ability to work collectively in order to achieve goals.
   "Once again the community has done a wonderful job of pulling together and supporting a good cause. You just can't be proud enough of the people in this community. Look at all the things they do, not just for specific events, but also year round for each other. It is just wonderful, and I am proud to live in this community," LaPorte said.
   Since January of 2002 the Veterans War Memorial committee has raised $265,000 in cash donations and other contributions. Individual donations have ranged from 50 cents to $15,000 and have been received from more than 400 individuals, churches and businesses.
   Workers from the Carter County Annex Community Service Group have been responsible for the actual construction of the monument. Officer Mike Dyer has overseen the hundreds of work hours at the monument, and said both he and the inmates have taken a great deal of pride in their labor.
   "It is great to see it finally coming to an end," Dyer said. "The men took pride in it and it was something they really enjoyed doing. They really tried to do good craftsmanship." Dyer stated brickwork still needs to be completed, an eternal flame installed, and electrical wiring finished at the memorial.
   Weather permitting, he expects his men to be able to add the finishing touches within a few weeks. War Memorial committee Chairman, Deacon Bowers noted work still needs to be done, but stated yesterday's dedication ceremony has sparked a desire to see the memorial completed as soon as possible.
   Bowers stated that the committee is continuing to accept donations for the memorial for continued maintenance over the years.
  
   Editors Note: Star Reporter, Abby Morris, contributed to this story.