Freedom has a beautiful ring to it, but as we all know so well, freedom comes with a very high price.
We are forever thankful to those that gave their life so unselfishly so that we can live free and we never want to forget that sacrifice. Memorial Day is the time of remembrance for all those soldiers — men and women — that sacrificed their lives based on the decision to serve and protect at all cost.
Three soldiers from our area that gave their lives in three different wars can be found in the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum permanent military exhibit. Each has their own story, but each shared the same commitment to their country.
Charles Thomas Owen (b. 1944, d. 1966) was a Specialist 4 Infantry 11C-Indirect Fire Infantryman serving from 1965 to 1966 with the 11C, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam. He was the first from McMinn County to die in the Vietnam War — a Cold War-era military conflict.
For Owen, his life ended at the early age of 22 after he contracted malaria while serving in Vietnam. His service is told in a proclamation that hangs in our Vietnam Conflict exhibit. He was serving as a radio/telephone operator while on a reconnaissance patrol when his unit came under attack. The patrol’s commanding officer was mortally wounded. Owen took control of the unit, leading it relentlessly against enemy attack.
The proclamation quotes an article in the newspaper, “The Traveler,” a newspaper of the 1st Battalion, 28th Regiment, which states, “Owen’s inspiration to his fellow soldiers to fight with renewed effort was directly responsible for saving many lives.”
Owen received the Bronze and Silver stars for his “meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile forces” and for “gallantry in action.” In 2015, McMinn County renamed the bridge crossing Foreman’s Creek on Highway 30 after Owen.
James David Tatum (b. 1968, d. 1991), graduated McMinn County High School in 1987 and was a member of Oak Grove Baptist Church. He was a native of Riceville.
It is noted in a Tennessee state proclamation that he was known for his artistic abilities. He went on to serve in the United States Army. He was a petroleum specialist in the Quartermaster Corps. He had completed three years of service, being honorably discharged, and was working locally when war erupted in the Persian Gulf. He along with 22,000 other soldiers were called back into action under Operation Desert Storm.
He went willingly and was stationed with the Pennsylvania-based 475th Quartermaster Group, specializing in water purification in Dhaharn, Saudi Arabia. He lost his life at 22 years of age on Feb. 25, 1991, in an enemy SCUD missile attack.
It is described in an article found at www.etvma.org as “… the single, most devastating attack on U.S. forces during that war, 29 soldiers died and 99 were wounded.”
His feelings about returning to service were found by family in his personal journal.
He wrote, “I hope what lies ahead for me will be God’s will and he will look over me and my family during this time of twelve months.”
He received the Purple Heart and many other awards of achievement. He is the only McMinn County native to die during Operation Desert Storm.
Charles R. Ware (b. 1911, d. 1942) was born in Knoxville. At 18 years of age, he enlisted with the United States Navy from Athens, where his mother lived. He attended the Annapolis Naval Academy, graduating in 1934, and served at sea for six years on the battleship USS Texas, BB-35, and the destroyer USS Dahlgren, DD-187.
In February of 1940, he entered flight training at NAS Pensacola, Fla., where he earned his wings. He earned the rank of lieutenant. He served with the Scouting Squadron 5 based on the USS Yorktown and the USS Enterprise.
On June 4, 1942, Lt. Ware and his section, the Dauntless Dive Bombers, joined in a mission to attack three Japanese carriers in the Battle of Midway. The mission was a success, resulting in the three ships being burned and sunk. However, the group encountered a wave of Japanese Zeros protecting a fourth carrier.
Despite being low on fuel and ammunition, Lt. Ware and his men engaged the enemy destroying the heart of the Imperial Japanese Navy and reversing the outcome of the war in the Pacific.
The price was high with only two of his section mates returning to the Enterprise. Lt. Ware and his air gunner, ARM1/c William H. Stambaugh, USN, of Paintsville, Kentucky, were never found. His extraordinary heroism earned him the second highest Naval decoration — the Navy Cross. He was again honored at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Staten Island, New York, in April of 1945 when his mother, Arva Zena Ware, launched the Gearing Class destroyer USS Charles R. Ware, DD-865, named in his honor.
The USS Charles R. Ware served the United States Navy all around the world, including in Vietnam waters in 1967. The ship then became a Naval Reserve training ship and was decommissioned on Nov. 30, 1974, in Galveston, Texas.
The museum is proud to be the “home port” of the USS Charles R. Ware, with a large display of artifacts related to the ship and crew. The display accompanies our comprehensive military exhibit that includes Civil War, Mexican War and Spanish American War, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam Conflict and Persian Gulf War artifacts from donating families.
Members can tour the Museum free of admission at any time it is open, while non-members pay a $5 fee. Senior adults and students pay a $3 entrance fee.
Yearly membership to the museum is $15 for seniors, $25 for adults, $10 for students and $45 for family.
The museum plans to open May 26 for regular hours after being closed for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Living history is here to share through our stories. You may join our Facebook page and become better acquainted with our artifacts or visit our website at www.livingheritagemuseum.com for more information about us.