POW/MIA flag highlights ceremony

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  JOHNSON CITY -- The raising of the POW/MIA flag as the latest phase of East Tennessee State University's memorial dedicated to veterans and the ETSU Army Reserve Officers Training Corps highlighted Veterans Day events held on the university campus Thursday.
  The local chapter of Rolling Thunder provided financial support to complete the memorial's second phase. Chapter president Bill Hampton presented the POW/MIA flag to ROTC cadets for display at the ceremony.
  "For us as a chapter to help fund this project was an honor," said Hampton, a Vietnam veteran. "I hope it will be a reminder for all our generations to come that not all of our service personnel have come home."
  The POW/MIA flag now flies with seven other flags that flank the monument in front of the entrance to Memorial Hall, the six flags representing each branch of the U.S. armed services and the U.S. flag.
  A Vietnam veteran, Hampton told event attendees that nearly 92,000 American servicemen and women have gone unaccounted in action since World War II.
  The ceremony included remembrances by a former ETSU employee and Korean War veteran Carson Gentry who was held as a prisoner of war for almost three years.
  Gentry went to Korea in 1950 when the United States military intervened to block communist forces from invading South Korea. He related his experiences of beating back the North Korean military only to see Chinese forces overrun U.S. military units in northern Korea after Thanksgiving in 1950.
  "We didn't know what to expect," he said. "When we crossed the 38th parallel, that was another big experience."
  Gentry was captured by the Chinese and held in a prison camp for 33 months until the war ended. He recalled he and his fellow prisoners pilfering vegetables or other food from the camp's supply to survive.
  "I weighed 195 pounds when I was captured," he said. "After four months of starvation, I weighed 110 pounds."
  Gentry did survive, returning to the army after his release. He came to ETSU to teach military science until he retired from military service. He continued to work at ETSU for 25 years.
  The first phase of the memorial was unveiled last year when an Army ROTC monument of carved marble was unveiled in front of Memorial Hall. The monument depicts a flag draped over the top of the marble mass, upon which a Vietnam-era helmet rests. A bronze replica of the ROTC emblem decorates the monument, while a plaque bears the names of the 10 graduates of the ETSU program who died in combat.
  The 10 names include two of Carter County's native sons - Lt. James D. Dugger and Capt. Daniel Graybeal - who died in combat. Dugger was killed in 1972 during the Vietnam War. Graybeal died in 1991 during the U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf. The names of both men can be found in the Veterans War Memorial in downtown Elizabethton.