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A Forgotten Name; An Unforgettable Act of Bravery

May 25, 2015

marine corpsI make it my business to honor Memorial Day in some way every year. I want my kids to know that it’s not just about the neighborhood pool opening up and going to a barbecue.

My late father-in-law was a Marine Corps veteran. One of my husband’s closest friends is a Marine Corps General who did two tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Both lost dear friends – no, they’d call them brothers – to combat.

I never got to meet my late father-in-law. He died just a few months before my husband and I fell in love. But I know my husband’s friend Dave pretty well. I know, for instance, that he has a hard time getting into the grillin’ and chillin’ aspects of this holiday weekend.

Memorial Day is a day of melancholy for him.

While I definitely planned on saying a prayer with our kids to honor our fallen, I really didn’t think I’d post more than a photograph and a few words of thanks on Cold today. I’ve only returned from a four-day excursion to Knoxville, TN, where my daughter was competing in a creativity competition. And since my focus has been on my little girl and her powers of imagination, I didn’t think I’d have the time to create something of any meaning myself.

But fate intervened with a spontaneous trip to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN.

If you’re ever in the Knoxville area, I highly recommend a trip to this wonderful, quirky little museum. It’s got all the charm of a Loretta Lynn song, complete with the care and single-minded obsession of a professor consumed with a narrow area of expertise.

In this case it is a magical fusion.

Museum of Appalachia

As I walked the land on this meticulously restored farm – petting the goats and watching little ones chase the peacocks, ogling the artifacts – a banjo made of a ham tin, decades-old, hand-crafted marionettes of simple, country folk (a mother in an apron, a daddy with his fiddle), a wooden child’s coffin with endearments carved into its side, I came upon a brief and humble exhibit nestled between the quilts and the apothecary displays.

It caught my eye because it featured a picture of a little boy of about six with his two front teeth missing. He looked like Ronnie Howard in the black and white episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. This boy, a local, grew up to be a man who served his country in the Vietnam War. There was also a picture of him in full uniform from when he was home on leave.

But that would be the last time his family would see him.

Upon his return to Vietnam, on an enemy scouting mission, this young man volunteered to be lowered into a suspicious-looking hole in the ground. Turns out it was an enemy hideout and he was shot and killed almost immediately. But the hideout was destroyed, and the many Vietcong hiding in the hole were captured, so to his brothers in uniform he did not die in vein. In fact, this one act of bravery had undoubtedly saved many of their lives, as this enemy hideout had been strategically placed and vicious in its execution of attacks on American soldiers in the area.

Posthumously, this one-time adorable six year-old with the missing teeth became one of the most decorated soldiers in Tennessee history.

Ronnie Howard

Damn, I wish I could remember his name – he deserves more than to be called “that young man” or “the soldier from Norris, Tennessee.” I should have written it down.

Even nameless, with only his First Grade face imprinted on my memory, I couldn’t help but think of this young man from Norris, TN, as I pulled up to my house yesterday. I’d been driving for five hours and was exhausted. The creativity competition had been like spending four days in Disney World and I had an almost sexual desire to plop down on my living room couch with a glass of wine in my hand. But jutting out from one of the peeling, weather-worn columns on our house was my father-in-law’s World War II American flag – faded colors, only forty-eight stars, a bit frayed, but a beautiful, majestic piece of history. Every year, we try to fly it for a specific person – usually one our friend Dave is remembering.

This year, however, we’re flying it in honor of a young man whose name I can’t remember, but whose story I can’t forget.

Ivy Depot flag

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9 Comments
  1. Wonderful tribute, Vic… Born and raised in East Tennessee, lived in Knoxville and Oak Ridge — visited Norris Lake as a kid… I searched but could not find the lad’s name – did see your post listed on one of the sites I visited. HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! God bless our fallen heroes and those still active in combat – and their families!

    • As always, thanks for reading and writing your down your thoughts 🙂 I couldn’t find his name via the internet either and the museum was closed when I tried to call. I did find the name of an Alvin York who is also featured at the museum as a WWI hero. Tennessee is beautiful, BR. It was only my second visit. Wish I could’ve seen more of it, but we were pretty much stuck at UT for all of the hoopla surrounding the competition. Nice campus, though. You must visit the Museum of Appalachia.

  2. Very well-written.
    Loved it!

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