ROGERSVILLE — During Monday's Memorial Day service in Rogersville, former American Legion Post 21 commanders Cathy Groff and Julie Forgety read the name of every Hawkins County native killed in action between World War I and Vietnam.
Before they started the WWII names, however, Forgety shared a story about one of her cousins, Millard Lawson, who was killed in action at the age of 18, and who’s name is on that list.
He was best friends and a cousin to her uncle, and they were in the same unit.
"He used to tease my uncle all the time that my uncle needed someone to look out for him," Forgety said. "So on this particular day my Uncle Clel was assigned point man. He was out front when their patrol was on guard. So, Millard said, I'm going to change places with you because you need me to look out for you and the other men. So they changed places, and my cousin Millard Lawson ended up being the point man out front, and he proceeded about 20 yards and stepped on a land mine, and was killed instantly."
‘If it had not been for Millard's sacrifice’
Last year, Forgety's cousin who is one of Uncle Clel's daughters visited Rogersville to see Millard's name on the War Memorial in front of the Hawkins County Courthouse, as well as visit his final resting place at a family cemetery.
"She said that she realized if it had not been for Millard's sacrifice, that she, her sister, her children, and her grandchildren would have never existed," Forgety said. "Similar stories can be told about all the people whose names are up here on this memorial, and other memorials across the United States. Let us never forget the ultimate sacrifices that have been made by these brave men and women for our freedoms."
Forgety also recited her award-winning poem — “Confessions of a Woman in Green” — memorializing her experiences as an WAC (Women's Army Corps) as Rogersville hosted its annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning on Main Street in front of the Hawkins County Courthouse.
A video of the entire ceremony can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.
Keynote speaker Dennis Elkins noted it's not a joyous occasion, but it is an honor to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers.
‘They are forever young, healthy and strong’
"As citizens of this country it is our duty to honor all of our men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, from the American Revolution to our current operations against terrorism," Elkins said. "One million American men and women have made the supreme sacrifice while serving in wars and conflicts, so we honor all of them today. Not just those with the highest medals or the heroes who fought in the most famous wars and battles. They all died so we can continue to cherish the things that we love — freedom, our country, and our family."
He added, "Some were only teenagers. Many were just in their 20s. Regardless of their age, to their families they are forever young, healthy and strong. Long after the battlefield guns have been silenced and the bombs stop exploding, the children of our fallen warriors will be missing a parent, spouses will continue to miss their life partner, parents will never stop grieving.
Elkins, who served in Vietnam in 1970-71, admitted he doesn't know many of the names on the memorial, but he does know one who was a classmate: Thomas "Tommy" Bernard, who was two grades ahead of him in school.
‘His sacrifice will never be forgotten’
"A lot of you who are here today remember him even closer than I do," Elkins said. "To my knowledge, he was either the first or second fallen soldier from Hawkins County in the Vietnam War. It's an honor for me to be here today to give him honor, and his family, so that his sacrifice will never be forgotten."
Elkins added, "From a veteran who says thank you to the men from our community whose names will be read here today, and men and women from all over our country for paying the supreme sacrifice that I enjoy each day, thank you for being here today.”