Macon County citizens came together on Saturday afternoon to honor its Vietnam Veterans with a special parade and ceremony. The event was held in Downtown Franklin and was made possible by the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 994, Town of Franklin, and the Macon County Board of Commissioners.
In 2008, Congressman Heath Shuler (D- 11) took an idea submitted by Derrel Maxwell and the members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 994 in Franklin and introduced House Resolution 1231 in support of Vietnam Veterans Day. The resolution was unanimously passed in the House of Representatives and calls on the American People to recognize March 29th as the anniversary of the troops being withdrawn from Vietnam.
“Derrel was instrumental in helping us figure out that there was not a day set aside for Vietnam Veterans,” said Congressman Shuler. “The veterans fought hard for country and they deserve a day to be set aside to honor the contribution they gave to our country through their dedication and service.”
As part of the ceremony, the Macon County Board of Commissioners will be making special presentations to the families of fallen Macon County Vietnam Veterans. Of the more than 58,000 deaths of U.S. Troops which occurred during the Vietnam War, six of those men were Maconians.
During a recent trip to Washington D.C., Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Bobby Kuppers were able to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. According to Beale, being able to see the names of the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in honor of our country was a surreal and humbling experience.
While visiting the Wall, Beale and Kuppers made etchings of the names of the six Maconians who lost their lives during the war and presented it to the families during Saturday’s celebration. The six men honored on Saturday included Vernon T. Cochran, Dennis S. Cabe, Harold F. McGaha, James R. Neil, James Sprinkle, and Lawton A. Keener.
In addition to the plaques that were given to the families, 50 wooden crosses with the names of fallen soldiers from Macon and the neighboring counties were displayed on the grounds of the Macon County Courthouse.
Representatives from Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Shuler’s office, as well as Senator Jim Davis (R-50) and local town and county officials were on hand to honor area veterans. Dwayne Cabe, officer with the Franklin Police Department and brother of Dennis S. Cabe, a fallen Vietnam Veteran, honored his brother’s memory by singing the National Anthem.
Saturday’s festivities started with a parade which began at Town Hall and ended at the square. The Grand Marshal was Macon County native, Nathan “Nat” B. Henry.
Henry was a member of the B Company 1st Battalion 12th Infantry Division. Henry was a Prisoner Of War (POW) during Vietnam. Henry was held captive from July 12, 1967 until March 5, 1973 by the North Vietnamese Army after being the sole survivor of his platoon after a battle with enemy forces.
He is the recipient of two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his selfless service during the war. Henry is a past president and current chairman of the Board of Directors of the Smoky Mountain Vietnam Veterans Chapter 994. Henry is the subject of the book “To Hell and Beyond” the story of Nathan B. “Nat” Henry — Vietnam Veteran POW.
“The men I had the honor of serving with in Vietnam are some of the bravest men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing,” said Henry. “We thank you for your support today.”
Saturday’s keynote speaker was County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who retired from the U.S. Navy.
“It is truly an honor and privilege to be asked to speak at this marvelous event and I greatly appreciate the opportunity,” said Kuppers. “My first memories of the Vietnam War were similar to many Americans in the 60s.
Watching the evening news as the pictures of the war made their way into our living rooms, news reports about the draft and the protests on college campuses were difficult for a high school kid who was bound for the Naval Academy, to get his head around. And so, like many in the country who were not directly affected by the war, it continued to run in the background and it was easier not to think about it. Yet, here in my own home county, there were many families for whom the Vietnam War was all too real and could not be dismissed from their minds.
And it is these families and their soldiers, sailors and airmen that we honor today.”
According to Kuppers, the veterans he encountered throughout his life helped to shape him in his career with the Navy, and continues to lead decisions he makes today. “During my final years at the Naval Academy and my first years after graduation, I had the good fortune to work with, and for, many veterans of the Vietnam War,” said Kuppers. “They carried themselves with such honor, integrity, and class, that you simply had to admire them for the great patriots that they were. By their example, I learned a great truth about military service – I learned that whether the job you do gets noticed or not, whether it is appreciated or not, whether you are congratulated or criticized for what you have done – you owe it your country and to your fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen to perform your duty the best of your ability – all the time – not just when its easy and not just when it’s popular. I know it sounds simple, but these veterans out here know just how difficult that task is. There were many times in command of the Key West that I was tested and had to harken back to the principle they had taught me, and the veterans you see out here today have lived and continue to live by that principle. I want to thank you for what you taught me about service to my country and to my fellow man.”
Commissioner Kuppers closed his speech by referencing his favorite quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. “There have been few to hold the office of President that have been more eloquent,” said Kuppers. “This is my favorite TR quote because I think it speaks volumes about the character of the veterans of the Vietnam War that we honor here today:”
“It is not the critic who counts: Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
“I can’t improve on Theodore Roosevelt, except to say that you have been in the arena and clearly you are among the group that enjoys the triumph of high achievement, because you didn’t just fight a war – you transformed a nation,” concluded Commissioner Kuppers.