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A brave and selfless act: Rogersville vet recalls the day his life changed

Jeff Bobo • Nov 11, 2019 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — One thing all veterans have in common, whether they served in wartime or not, is the oath they took that changed their lives forever.

More than four decades later, Air Force veteran Ben McGrew vividly remembers the day he took his military oath. McGrew was the keynote speaker for Rogersville's Veterans Day program Monday morning

McGrew: “I remember finding myself in a room at the Jacksonville, Florida, induction center. I had my right hand high in the air, and this is what I said: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, and accordingly to the regulations and to the uniform code of military justice, so help me God.’ ”

“A brave and selfless act”

“Even though that was 43 years ago, I don't think any of us who have taken that oath have forgotten that moment in time,” McGrew said. “Whatever branch you served in, or whatever your job or duty station, by raising your hand to take that oath, you committed a brave and selfless act. There were absolutely no guarantees going forward at that point. You agreed to accept the unknown risk so that others did not have to.”

McGrew was an avionics specialist during the height of the Cold War in the late 1970s and early 1980s in West Germany, where he worked on F-4s, whose pilots had an ominous mission in the event of nuclear war.

They were to deliver nuclear bombs to Russia on a one-way trip.

When asked about his military service during his nephew's graduation from West Point, McGrew joked that he survived two German Octoberfests and got a free ride home.

An officer who overheard his jest straightened him out.

“He took me aside and he sharply reminded me you took that same oath, and any lesser response diminishes your standing in the community,” McGrew said. “That's a lesson I learned from him.”

A large crowd in attendance

There was a large crowd in attendance Monday morning for the annual Rogersville Veterans Day Program in front of the Hawkins County Courthouse.

As always, the ceremony was opened at 11 a.m. with the ringing of the bell 11 times by Cub Scouts Pack 100.

Aside from McGrew’s speech, there was a laying of wreaths at the Veterans Memorial, releasing of the balloons by vets in remembrance of MIAs and KIAs, a rifle salute and the singing of taps by Mary Ellen Broome.

Grateful to the veteran community

One topic of McGrew’s presentation Monday was the community of veterans, and how they are always there to help each other.

When he moved to Rogersville, McGrew was embraced by his fellow veterans, and through their help was able to receive medical benefits that had eluded him for three decades.

McGrew injured his knee after jumping 9-12 feet off of airplane wings on a daily basis during his routine maintenance duties. He was evacuated with a non-combat service related injury to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

After leaving the military, he applied for veterans medical benefits and was turned down for more than 30 years. That all changed when he met Hawkins County Veterans Services Officer Danny Breeding and his assistant Brandy Smith.

“I'm very grateful for them,” McGrew said. “I've seen data reports from Hawkins County, millions of dollars of (back military) pay have flowed through that office for years.”

He now wants to give back.

“There are many ways to do this,” he said. “I recently joined the local VFW and American Legion. Having started a news business, I haven't had a lot of time to spend with either, but that doesn't make them less worthy of your support.”

Three McGrew takeaways for Veterans Day

1. “Military pay was, and probably still is, pretty lousy — especially considering the sacrifices made by the individual, as well as the family unit. All this being true, I don't know many veterans who would trade the experience, and many stating they would return to service if they could.”

2. “Take the time to listen to a veteran. While some of them may be full of hot air, many of them have something to say.”

3. “I don't know a veteran who gets tired of hearing, 'Thank you for your service'.”

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