Among McMinn County’s greatest treasures are its veterans.
A special part of McMinn County’s bicentennial celebration is a project chronicling the stories of county residents who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. About 10% of McMinn County’s 55,000 citizens are either veterans or currently on active duty.
Beginning on Veterans Day — Monday, Nov. 11 — visitors to the McMinn County Bicentennial Facebook page can begin enjoying videos of local veterans telling their stories. Local informational Channel 95 will also begin running the videos periodically.
The project began earlier this year as an idea from the McMinn County Bicentennial Committee. McMinn County Veterans Service Officer Susan Peglow conducted interviews with more than 20 veterans and those interviews were recorded by videographer Josh Boggess. The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum provided space for the interviews to be held.
“I wish I had my grandfather’s knowledge of his experience in World War II, but he never talked about it,” said McMinn County Mayor John Gentry. “We respect that, but a lot of grandchildren want to know and today we have the technology to pass that down.”
Gentry said this idea has been talked about for some time. He recalled a veteran who was a member of the McMinn County Senior Citizens Board who was at the Bataan Death March that occurred at the conclusion of the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II. The Allies surrendered to the Japanese, with 76,000 soldiers surrendering altogether — the largest in American and Filipino military histories and the largest United States surrender since the Civil War’s Battle of Harper’s Ferry. Soon afterwards, U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war were forced into the Bataan Death March.
The man to whom Gentry referred has since passed away and was building radar installations for Allied forces during the battle.
“How many other folks do we have like (him) who call McMinn County home and we don’t know their stories?” Gentry asked. “We’re talking about bonafide heroic stories.”
Gentry also noted the service of Company B soldiers from Etowah during World War II.
“That was one of the most decorated units in all of World War II,” he said. “More enlisted men became officers out of that unit than any other unit during World War II. There should be a book about those guys.”
The names of those McMinn County soldiers are inscribed inside the McMinn County Courthouse, but their stories have not been told in great detail.
“We waited too long and we don’t want to do that again,” said Gentry. “We said any veteran who is willing, we’d like to film them. We want our young people in the future to realize that great things came from people from little McMinn County that literally changed the world for other people.”
Gentry recalled a lecture by the late historian Bill Selden where Selden noted that McMinn County sent more men per capita to serve in World War I than any other county in the United States, which earned McMinn the nickname “the Volunteer County of the Volunteer State.”
“You look at a lot of our monuments and there has never been a lack of McMinn County men and women who were willing to serve,” said Gentry.
Peglow talked about the veterans who have participated in the project so far.
“They were very honored to share their story,” she said. “They were very humble — said they didn’t really have anything to tell, but then when you start talking to them, I got all of these unreal nuggets of information. They are very humble people and were tickled that I asked.”
As an Army veteran herself, Peglow was especially proud that four women have participated in the video project.
“Unfortunately, a few of the veterans who did this have since passed away,” she shared. “I’m so glad they were able to share their stories before they passed. It’s history we’ll continue to share down through the generations; it’s not lost, it’s not forgotten.”
The basis for Peglow’s interviews was the McMinn’s Finest questionnaire that is distributed to any veteran who would like to share their story as part of The Daily Post-Athenian’s ongoing feature.
A Korean War veteran interviewed by Peglow was among the last Buffalo Soliders — an all-African-American regiment of the U.S. Army. In 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military. The 24th Infantry Regiment was the last segregated regiment to engage in combat and was deactivated in 1951. Its soldiers were then integrated into other units in Korea.
“That was a story that had to be told that people don’t know about,” said Peglow. “He’s a hero.”
Peglow believes the rich history of military service in McMinn County is woven into the community as a whole and a paramount part of the county’s 200-year existence. She feels this project makes perfect sense as part of the bicentennial celebration.
“The roots (of military service) go way back, so it’s very appropriate,” she said.
Many of McMinn County’s veterans are not native-born, but chose McMinn County as their home.
“The fact that we’re honored enough to have people want to choose McMinn County to be their home for the rest of their lives; I think that’s pretty appropriate, as well,” added Peglow.
These video tributes are an ongoing project. Any veteran who would like to share their story is encouraged to contact the McMinn County Veterans Service Office by calling 744-1605.
Also, any veteran who would like to participate in The Daily Post-Athenian’s “McMinn’s Finest” series can obtain a form at The DPA office, located at 320 S. Jackson St., in Athens, or at the McMinn County Veterans Service Office in the McMinn County Courthouse Annex. A PDF version can be obtained via email by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
A new unit of volunteers are on patrol in the streets of McMinn County.
The McMinn County Sheriff’s Department’s Public Service Unit (PSU) is currently made up of five men who are volunteering their time to assist law enforcement.
The PSU began in June as an offspring of the sheriff’s department’s Ham Radio Watch.
“Monroe County has this type of public service unit and other departments do across the state and we thought it was a good idea,” McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said. “Picking the right personnel is always critical.”
That led Guy to Cliff Blackburn, Dale Williams, Gary Eiff, Bill Luecken and Chris Nunley — all fellow members of the local Ham Radio Club.
“The more I’ve gotten involved with Ham Radio, the more I realize the service minded mentality in Ham Radio,” Guy said, adding that members of the Ham Radio Club are already experienced in emergency response communications. “They’re already schooled in working with the public.”
The PSU members are tasked with handling non-law enforcement work — including funeral processions, traffic control, safety checks on citizens and buildings and generally being the “eyes and ears” for the sheriff’s department.
While the members of the PSU are deputized as reserve/auxiliary officers, they don’t get involved in making arrests, chasing suspects or activities of that nature.
“They’ve assisted us on some scenes,” Guy said. “They’ve proven themselves very useful and successful.”
Guy said having assistance with the types of activities carried out by the PSU helps his officers deal with other situations.
“When they’re on duty, it frees up at least one patrol car and deputy,” Guy said. “It puts more manpower toward answering calls and doing law enforcement duties.”
Deputy Brian Alexander noted that he and other officers notice the help provided by the PSU.
“We really appreciate their help,” he said. “It relieves us to answer calls and makes for a better response time.”
Alexander noted that recently there was a call from dispatch involving a gun during a funeral procession.
“If we had two cars tied up on the funeral, we would have had less help out there,” he said.
As for the PSU members themselves, they liked the idea as soon as it was pitched to them by the sheriff.
“Initially, I was on board immediately,” Blackburn said. “It’s another way we can help the community.”
Once they got started, though, Blackburn said they realized there was a bit of adjustment to make.
“There was a learning curve for us,” Blackburn said, explaining that the sheriff’s department uses 10-codes and Ham Radio does not.
Outside of that, however, the mutual interests between the Ham Radio Club members allowed for a smooth transition.
“We’re all friends,” Nunley said. “With Ham Radio, at the sheriff’s department and outside.”
Luecken noted that it was the “credibility of Joe” that led to the members signing on so quickly, since Guy is “as involved in the community as he is and has the reputation that he has.”
A desire to help out the members of the sheriff’s department also played into the members deciding to volunteer, as well, they said.
“We really appreciate what the deputies do,” Eiff said. “If there was an opportunity for me to help them and relieve them, I wanted to help.”
“If we know they’re out there by themselves, we try to go help,” Williams added.
“I admire these deputies,” Luecken noted. “They’re busy — over busy some times — they’re very professional officers and I think they do a great job.”
All the PSU members noted that the response from the community toward them since they started has stood out to them.
“The response from the community to our presence has been great,” Blackburn said. “The support from the community is really special.”
In the months since the PSU has been on the road, Guy said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen.
“We’d like to expand it more,” he said, noting that more members and more equipment would both be in the works. “We’re going to give them even more equipment. We would welcome donations from local businesses.”
Athen’s City Middle School held its annual day Cougar Care Day on Oct. 29.
The school has made this a tradition since 2017, during which time students complete two days of service as a team throughout the community.
The school’s students and staff work together to reach out to places of need locally.
The students involved from 6th grade to 8th grade will have completed six different days of service when they leave, as well as experiences with different organizations.
A total of 540 students and staff member participated this year.
“The Cougar Care Day was born from Rachel’s Challenge. As a school, we decided to give the students the chance to look outside of themselves to do service in the community,” said Sandy Starr, the coordinator of Cougar Care Day at ACMS.
One of places the students worked at on Cougar Care Day was CASA, located in Downtown Athens.
CASA Corridor of East Tennessee is a nonprofit organization which began advocating for abused and/or neglected children in McMinn, Meigs and Rhea Counties in 2007.
The students visited the site from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to team up with Linda Long, the housekeeper for CASA, for the day of service.
“The children from ACMS were very polite, mannerly and eager to serve at CASA. They also were interested in learning more about the CASA organization,” said Long
“The kids worked hard in our offices organizing desks, cleaning our offices, windows and our walkway is completely cleaned out thanks to the Athens City Middle School Cougars who came out to volunteer,” said Chloe Nance, CASA director of development.
CASA officials added that they love to be in involved in any way that they can with the younger generation in the community.
“Hopefully, one day they will remember volunteering and what we do here at CASA,” said Nance. “Maybe one day they will want to help local kids in the community like we do at CASA.”
Like the experience with CASA, the students have had the opportunity to work with other professionals in the community such as CapStar Bank employees and members of Full Circle.
“Our students are not only serving, but learning about local organizations. This shows the students how to contribute in the community,” said Starr. “This day of service is breaking down barriers. The professionals working with the students are surprised by how eager our students are to get involved and it is great that it’s also a chance for students to be mentored.”
McMinn High School’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) received 3-Star National Chapter Award for the third year recently.
From Oct. 30 through Nov. 1, MCHS FFA members in a series of competitions at the National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis.
Jacqueline King placed in the top 12 in the country for her Agriscience Fair Project in the animal systems area.
“King has prepared all year through submitting applications, paperwork and working diligently on her experiment that she presented at nationals,” said Brittany Davis, MCHS FFA advisor.
Students are also interviewed at the national level.
King has prepped through being interviewed by numerous teachers and community members to practice the interviewing process.
King’s project displayed the benefits of utilizing a Coburn Hog Weigh Tape to help predict growth in show pigs.
King had full responsibility of the project, according to Davis, collecting the data given from the experiment and interviewing with judges.
King is the daughter of Stacy and Lottie King.
Graydon Colbaugh was also named the national winner in his proficiency area of specialty animal.
“A proficiency is an award that students can apply for based on their involvement in the agriculture industry,” said Davis.
Colbaugh has worked at Bellsprings Fishery since the summer of 2016.
At Bellsprings, Colbaugh manages over 2,000 rainbow trout. In addition, he had to fill out a lengthy application and interview with judges.
He is the son of Greg and Jennifer Colbaugh.
MCHS FFA also received the 3-Star National Chapter Award for the third year while in Indianapolis.
This award is based on community involvement, agriculture promotion and the success of students.
MCHS FFA was one of 345 that received the award out of over 8,630 chapters across the nation.
“We hope to continue the tradition of being named a 3-Star chapter,” said Davis. “It’s so rewarding to see all the hard work they do pay off.”
Davis said they are already preparing for upcoming competitions and filling out award applications to begin another season.