Grainger Today Editor
There are patriots who have demonstrated what it means to not ask what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. In some cases, those who gave more than we as a nation had a right to ask of them were then spit upon for doing what their country required of them. They received no thanks, and in some cases, were berated for sacrificing to serve their countrymen. HonorAir Knoxville seeks to ensure veterans receive the recognition they have earned.
KNOXVILLE – Four Grainger County veterans were aboard Wednesday, August 2, as HonorAir Knoxville completed its 24th flight. Edgar “Bo” Johnson, Howard Overbay, Roy Rich and Johnny Rosenbalm were among 136 Vietnam War veterans who departed McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, early Wednesday morning, to visit World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Marine and Air Force memorials in Washington, D.C.
Edgar “Bo” Johnson
Johnson, a Hancock County native, moved to Grainger County in 1968 when he married Frances Livesay, of the Indian Ridge area.He received his draft notice April 19, 1968 – the day of his wedding rehearsal. He and Frances were married April 20, and the draft board postponed his entering the service for six months. He reported for duty in November 1968, and completed basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He completed 1st Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a field radio mechanic and 2nd AIT at Fort Gordon, Georgia, as a field radio repairman. Johnson left for Vietnam Labor Day weekend of 1969, returned Labor Day weekend of 1970 and was honorably discharged. He was assigned to 1st Calvary 27 Maintenance in Vietnam and repaired radios carried by infantrymen in the field, as well as jeep radios and other electronic equipment. His assignment was in the central part of Vietnam, near the Cambodian border. He said, “Our fire support base was mortared almost every day until April of 1970, when the President let American troops cross into Cambodia and destroy their supply routes.” Johnson said his family and church prayed for him every day while he was deployed. “I know this because a man no more than three feet from me lost both legs and I didn’t even get a scratch. Prayers brought me back home safely,” he said. When he returned from Vietnam, many of his family members were at the airport to greet him and welcome him back home. “I did not experience some of the things that a lot of the veterans did,” he said. “But there was no big reception like I had seen from other wars. A lot of Vietnam vets feelings were tarnished when we did not receive the same greeting.” Johnson said the HonorAir flight to Washington, D.C. was the most memorable to the nation’s capital that he has ever had.
Overbay was born and raised in Bean Station. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969 and completed his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He completed AIT at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was trained as an artillery specialist and was shipped to Vietnam in April 1970. He was sent to Con Thien, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), about 3 km from North Vietnam. When he returned to Bean Station in March 1971, Overbay held the rank of Specialist 4th Class. He was honorably discharged.
Rich was also born and raised in Bean Station. He was drafted into the U.S. Army May 19, 1966, and completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. When he returned from basic training, he married his high school sweetheart, Linda Floyd, July 25, 1966. His new wife accompanied him when he was stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana for AIT as a field wireman. The couple was married only two and a half months when Rich was shipped out to Vietnam. He flew to Saigon October 17, 1966. From there he was sent to Long Bin and then onto Tay Ninh. He was assigned to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade as a radio operator. He also performed maintenance for communications lines. His unit was moved to Chu Lai in May, where he finished his tour. He returned home through Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay. Rich arrived home October 17, 1967, and after a 30-day leave, he was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Linda accompanied him for his new assignment, and the couple returned home to Bean Station May 17, 1968. They have now been married 51 years.
Another Bean Station native, Rosenbalm was drafted in October 1968. He completed his basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He completed AIT at Fort Eustus, Virginia for Army Aviation. Rosenbalm was stationed there for 16 weeks, from January to April. He was shipped to Nha Trang with a flight unit for a combat support unit for the Green Berets in April 1969. He performed 1,150 combat support hours as a crew chief, and achieved the rank of Specialist 5th Class. He returned to Bean Station in May 1970, with an honorable discharge from the Army. The veterans were escorted by scouts from the Smoky Mountain Council when they arrived at McGhee Tyson Airport Wednesday morning. Knoxville City Councilman Finnbarr Sanders and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett participated in a send-off ceremony, and a military honor guard from the Knoxville Military Entrance Processing Station honored the veterans as they moved through the terminal. Their plane received a water cannon salute as they prepared to depart. The veterans were greeted at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. by a large group of people waving American flags, holding signs thanking them for their service and reaching out to shake hands with the real American heroes. They visited memorials built to honor the sacrifices of those who served in various wars and branches of service throughout the day, and returned home to be welcomed by approximately 1,000 people as they walked through arches constructed with red, white and blue balloons, while patriotic music played and American flags were waved. Johnson said, “HonorAir deserves a great applause for what they did. Always keep in mind, that without our military forces we might not have the freedom to worship our God, and many other things we enjoy today.” HonorAir Knoxville has taken more than 3,100 East Tennessee veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials established to honor their sacrifices. East Tennessee WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans are encouraged to apply for a flight. Established by Prestige Cleaners and Prestige Tuxedo, with Covenant Health contributing as a major sponsor of each flight, there is no charge to veterans who participate. The next HonorAir Knoxville flight is scheduled to leave October 4. Three flights will be scheduled for 2018. Those interested in participating in a future HonorAir Knoxville flight should apply at www.honorairknoxville.com.
According to HonorAir Knoxville:
- Sixteen million Americans served in World War II.
- More than 400,000 American men and women were killed during World War II.
- There were approximately 900,000 WWII veterans alive in 2015.
- Everyday, America loses approximately 500 World War II veterans.
- 36,574 Americans died during the Korean War.
- 8,200 Korean War soldiers are listed as killed in action, lost or buried at sea.
- More than 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed during the Vietnam War.
- More than 9 million military personnel served during the Vietnam era.