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Rogersville Gold Star family honors fallen brother 50 years after he went MIA

ROGERSVILLE — While his wife, Penelope, was doing the same thing in her Florida hometown, on Wednesday Rogersville Gold Star family mem- ber Frank Gray honored the life and service of his brother-in-law, Sgt. Fred Allen Gassman, who went missing and was presumed killed in Laos 50 years ago.

Every year Frank and Penelope honor Gassman during the Gold Star family recognition portion of Rogersville’s Veterans Day program.

Penelope had to be in Florida this year, so Frank carried on alone Wednesday, placing flowers on the Hawkins County War Memorial near the eternal flame in front of the courthouse.

“He was killed 50 years ago last month in Laos,” Gray told the Times News after the program. “Oct. 5, 1970. He was Special Forces, and his body has not been recovered. The team got overrun, and he and his team leader got killed.”

Although Penelope and Gassman are natives of Fort Walton, Florida, Frank was born and raised in Rogersville, although he was gone for 40 years pursuing his own military career.

Gassman was a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, and on Oct. 5, 1970, he was with a patrol about 12 miles inside the Laotian border west of Ta Bat when they were attacked by a hostile force.

The official report states that the patrol had established its night position when it came under fire. According to the two surviving indigenous patrol members, Sgt. David Davidson was hit once during a long burst of enemy fire while the team was attempting to evacuate the area, and he fell down a ridge, after which he lay motionless with what appeared to be a fatal head wound.

The report states that around 1 p.m. that day, Gassman radioed overhead aircraft that they were being hit from three sides, that they were low on ammunition and requested an emergency extraction and air strikes. As he attempted to retrieve the homing device, he stated on the radio, “I’ve been hit, and in the worst way,” followed by several groans before the radio went dead. The surviving indigenous patrol members said that they last saw Gassman lying motionless with a large hole in his back.

The report further states that one unsuccessful search and recovery attempt was made shortly after the incident, but further attempts were curtailed due to the difficult tactical situation in the area. Davidson and Gassman remain missing. All other team members were successfully extracted.

“My wife loved him so much,” Frank said. “He was a big, tall guy and played basketball. He was always for the underdog. He wouldn’t put up with people bullying. That’s how she remembers him. I never got to know him, but my wife really loved him. The sun rose and set on him.”

During his opening remarks on Wednesday, Rogersville Veterans Day program master of ceremonies Capt. Thomas Wheeler (Ret.) noted that the families of veterans have also paid a tremendous price.

“We may never be able to adequately thank those families, but we must always do our best to support them,” Wheeler said.


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'No higher calling': Rogersville Veterans Day speaker touts service

ROGERSVILLE — To quote Bluff City Alderman and retired Army Command Sgt. Major Jeff Broyles, “Some dream the dream, some live the dream and others defend the dream.”

“God bless the defenders, and I’m proud to have been one of them, and still am today,” Broyles told the crowd during Rogersville’s Veterans Day program Wednesday morning.

Broyles, who served in the Army from 1986 to 2016 and participated in 17 deployments — earning Bronze Stars for his action during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, was the keynote speaker for Wednesday’s Veterans Day program.

“Thank those who put their lives on the line”

Broyles’ comments were preceded by the ringing of the bell 11 times at the 11th hour by Cub Scout Pack 100 to open Wednesday’s program, followed by a prayer conducted by the Rev. Tecky Hicks and opening remarks by the master of ceremonies, Capt. Thomas Wheeler (retired).

“On Veterans Day we honor every man and woman who has worn the uniform of our country,” Wheeler said. “Americans who stepped forward and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution and laws of this great nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Veterans Day is a day to thank those who put their lives on the line for their fellow Americans. A day to remember and review our commitments to these brave men and women.”

Wheeler added, “To all our veterans we have a simple, yet heartfelt message. Thank you. Your example served to inspire those who follow in your footsteps.”

The Raising of the Flag ceremony was conducted by Cherokee High School’s NJROTC, and the national anthem was sung by Mary Ellen Broome. Rogersville VFW Post 9543 Commander Dave Evans led the Pledge of Allegiance.

“A willing heart and an active hand”

The main topic of Broyles’ speech was service, whether it be military, civil, or simply serving as a great citizen and family member who makes it possible for others to go out and serve for them.

As an example, he pointed out his mother, who is so proud of her boy who started as a foot soldier with no education and achieved the highest rank possible by a non-commissioned officer.

“Each and every one of us in this great nation has a calling to serve in some capacity,” Broyles said. “Some military, like myself and a lot of my brothers and sisters out here today. Some civil. Some just serve with their undying support of those who are called, like the sweet little woman I just mentioned from Bluff City called my mama. True service only requires two things. A willing heart and an active hand.”

Broyles added, “I charge you all, veteran or not, to find your way to serve again. There is no higher calling and no task more satisfying. There are many ways to serve. Just find yours.”

“Nobody has permission to check out of my formation”

Broyles also called on all veterans to help put an end to veteran suicide.

“Some of us, and I say that as veterans, decide to check out of formation a little early,” Broyles said. “About 22 per day, I’m told. That’s something that we as veterans must stop today. We must act today to stop that. It’s real simple. Talk to each other. Take care of one another like you did then. Make sure that you’re checking your six and your nine.”

He added, “Just like on a patrol, many of you will remember, what do we do when we halt a patrol? We establish security first and foremost. Next thing we do is we look at each other. Are you all right, are your feet all right? Do you have water? It’s the same thing we can do to cut these numbers down. Nobody has permission to check out of my formation until it’s time.”

A balloon release to honor MIA/POW and KIA soldiers

Following Broyles’ speech there was the Placing of the Wreaths Ceremony conducted by the Ladies Auxiliaries, Cherokee NJROTC cadets, State of Franklin Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and a Gold Star family.

Rogersville American Legion Post 21 Commander Dennis Elkins then led a group of veterans in a balloon release to honor MIA/POW and KIA soldiers.

The event concluded with a rifle salute conducted by an honor guard comprised of members of the Church Hill, Rogersville and Bulls Gap VFWs, followed by the playing of Taps by past Tennessee State VFW Commander Darryl McPheron.

Attendance for the event was down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A video of the entire event can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net


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Despite pandemic, Kingsport Veterans Day ceremony draws a crowd

KINGSPORT — In a year during which COVID-19 has changed all our lives, sometimes in drastic and challenging ways, the pandemic failed on Wednesday to keep too many people away from the Model City’s ceremony honoring our nation’s veterans.

More than 100 men, women and children came to the Kingsport Veterans Memorial at J. Fred Johnson Park on Wednesday to show their support for our veterans. Each one in attendance was wearing a mask while making an effort to practice social distancing.

The ceremony was also live-streamed for those who chose not to attend or could not due to health reasons.

“We observe this holiday in honor of our veterans because of what they gave for us, in many cases their lives, and also because of what they gave to us, the opportunity to live in a free nation as free people,” said Lt. Col. Scott Carpenter, commander of the Holston Army Ammunition Plant and the keynote speaker.

Veterans Day is an annual U.S. holiday honoring military veterans with ceremonies typically held at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the official ending of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the holiday in 1919, then called Armistice Day, to honor that war’s veterans. President Dwight Eisenhower expanded the holiday to include all veterans.

ABOUT THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Carpenter was sworn in to his current position in September and became the first on-site commander for the installation since 2004. He comes to Holston from the 79th Theater Sustainment Command, Caserma Del Din, Vicenza, Italy, where he served as the G5 chief of plans and support operations distribution management chief.

During Wednesday’s event, Carpenter said were it not for the veterans who stepped up during our nation’s time of need and defended our freedom, we would not enjoy the blessings of freedom today.

“Our veterans are owed a debt that cannot be repaid. The expressions of gratitude made to our veterans today are far from adequate,” Carpenter said. “The undaunting display by our veterans at the time they served, the treasured values which they embodied and upheld, the conspicuous courage they showed in the face of danger, the unbelievable sacrifices they made are all carried on by those who serve today and are part of the legacy left to us by our veterans.”

Our nation is where it is today because of the veterans of the past, Carpenter said, noting that the spirit of the Revolutionary War veterans is the same spirit shared by all veterans.

“Freedom was won at a terrible cost, and one American generation after another has paid that cost,” Carpenter said. “We as a nation will continue to pay that cost for generations to come. We can and will do what needs to be done to defend freedom because our veterans did the very same when they served.

“We owe it to them to assure their sacrifice was not made in vain and the legacy they left us will not be squandered.”