Tennesseans have historically been known for their courage and willingness to step forward in wartime situations. Tennessee has famously been known as the Volunteer State since its involvement in the American Revolutionary War in 1780 when one of the earliest Tennessee settlement’s leaders, Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, called for volunteers to join them in battle against advancing British troops.
Their call to arms was in response to the threat made by British Major Patrick Ferguson to the settlers to surrender or face their homes and farms being burned down and their leaders killed. Almost 1,000 men responded to the call issued by Shelby and Sevier. Assisted by other patriots from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, they proceeded to Kings Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, where they soundly defeated Major Ferguson and his troops, killing Ferguson while all of his men were either captured or killed. The Overmountain Men, as they would come to be known, had served the British what many historians believe to be one of the war’s most pivotal defeats as their hold on the South was weakened.1
Of course, most “remember the Alamo” and the courage and bravery displayed by the 13 Tennesseans led by pioneer and United States Congressmen Davy Crockett as they joined more than 170 others in defense of the Alamo while surrounded by 4,000 Mexican troop, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Though they all perished, nobody will forget their bravery and courage against such great numbers.2
Remember them we shall. Such is the purpose of the Kingsport Veterans Memorial: to remember all who served and to honor them and their sacrifice of service to “Duty, Honor, and Country.” For so many, that meant sacrificing all.
Since World War I, more than 370 of Kingsport’s finest, bravest men and women have given their lives in defense of their homeland and its citizen’s freedoms. A total of 48 local soldiers were killed in action in World War I, including Hagan Hammond who was the first person from Kingsport and Sullivan County to die in battle in World War I. Today, Kingsport’s American Legion Post and a city street are named in his honor.
Fighting in Europe, Africa and the South Pacific, World War II saw Kingsport’s greatest loss of life as 232 soldiers gave all in the service and defense of their country. United States Corporal James F. Bentley, Jr. became the first known Kingsport casualty of World War II. Bentley, a 26-year-old graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School, died in battle on Corregidor on May 2, 1942.3
Tragically often referred to as “The Forgotten War,” the Korean War claimed the lives of 27 soldiers who hailed from Kingsport. It is thanks to these and the efforts of other brave men and women of the military that South Korea, to this day, remains a republic and was not overcome by communism.
Just as tragic and remembered for the way the soldiers who fought the war were treated upon their return, the Vietnam War claimed the lives of 27 of Kingsport’s brave young men. Sadly, many soldiers were scorned upon their return, and those who were not exposed to such treatment often weren’t welcomed home as heroes deserving of our respect and honor.
As the threat to freedoms never truly goes away, today’s wars continue seeing Kingsport’s best step forward in the defense of our democracy, and the rights and freedoms we and others around the world value so dearly. To date, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of four more brave young men.
While the above recounts all those who courageously paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that our rights and liberties remain, many more also demonstrated honor, valor and bravery in heeding the call to go and stand on the front line in defense of our country. So many of them still bear the scars – physical and emotional – from their tours of duty. Many, though home for good, are still fighting.
Present in our very own community are thousands who proudly served and are deserving of our most profound honor and respect. Many more are active and serving home or abroad. Honor them. For they, too, are worthy.
As long as evil exists and poses a threat to our way of life, you can bet a Kingsport soldier will be there present on the battle front standing watch to protect our country, our families, and all that we hold dear. And you can bet that they will always have our respect and honor and a place at the Kingsport Veterans Memorial to magnify that admiration.
1 “The American Revolution.” http://www.tn4me.org/article.cfm/a_id/264/minor_id/82/major_id/26/era_id/3 . Accessed 2 May, 2022.
2 “The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans.” https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/veterans/mexicanamerican.htm. Accessed 2 May 2022.
3 Staff, “First Kingsport Soldier Dies Fighting Enemy.” Kingsport Times-News; 13 May, 1942