More than 200 turned out Saturday at the Blount County Courthouse to remember those service men and women who died defending freedom.
The Blount Memorial Hospital Auxiliary hosted the event that included a reception for the participants.
Blount County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Charles Staley said he was pleased with the morning’s activities. Names of 327 deceased veterans who died since Memorial Day 2007 were called out. Those numbers include names of individuals provided by area funeral homes and don’t include Blount Countians who may have died out of county or state.
Each year the number of veterans in Blount County who die average between 300 and 350, said Staley. “That’s quite a number of vets in our community in one year’s time,” he said.
Speaker for the event was Linda Gayle Thomas, a Gold Star Mother whose son, Army National Guard Sgt. Paul W. Thomason III, was killed in action on March 20, 2005, in Iraq. Thomason was the father of four children, Megan, Piper, Asher and Cora.
Linda Gayle Thomas spoke about the Gold Star Association, the organization of individuals who have relatives who were casualties of war. “She did a very super job in her talk concerning the Gold Star Association. It’s very important. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd,” Staley said, adding that Thomas wasn’t there to draw sympathy. “So many don’t know what a Gold Star family is. She did a wonderful job. The program went very smoothly and one of smoothest we’ve had in years.”
Staley said it is important to honor veterans and the families of those who die serving the country.
“I think it’s very, very important. We really meet twice a year, the other time would be Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11,” he said. “The association between the veterans organizations is important. They are the ones who make up the United Veterans of Blount County.”
The main part of the Memorial Day program is planned by the United Veterans of Blount County and auxiliaries of those organizations.
“We go way out beyond what a lot of other Memorial Day programs do, and we always have in Blount County. In Blount County, our veterans expect that, and we want to make them happy.”
Staley said he remembers when today’s World War II veterans were just going to war immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack. “I was 9 years old when World War II started. You learn quite a bit at that age. I can remember the night of it very, very well,” he said of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Staley said he’s always had a soft spot in his heart for any situation involving war, particularly injured veterans. “The last 23 years I’ve worked with lots of injured and disabled. That’s our job,” he said.
In 2006, the Veteran’s Administration paid out more than $22 million in benefits, Staley said. “That’s quite a figure. A lot of people don’t realize there’s that much money that comes in as far as V.A. work,” he said. “We still have roughly 11,000 veterans who are living in Blount County.”