Hancock County Veterans Memorial
Sneedville, Hancock County, Tennessee
"POST 9654V.F.W.Erected and dedicatedin memory of all who have servedand to those who gave their livesin the service of their countryin all of our conflicts . . .""WW IWW IIKoreanVietNamIraq & AfghanistanDonated byThe American Legion Post 183and the Citizens of Hancock County"
When your town only has a few hundred residents, even one GI lost to wartime combat is difficult to withstand. During World War I the little town of Sneedville and the surrounding hamlets of Hancock County lost seventeen sons to disease and battlefield action. Simple logic leads me to believe at least a few of these men were related, either brothers or cousins. A little research proves the logic correct.
In early January of 1918 the two Cantwell brothers, James and Alfred, along with their first cousin, Robert Mathis, had answered the call to service. They were heading to recruit training on a troop train that stopped for the night at St Joseph, Missouri. The men were assigned a room at a local hotel. The next morning the three did not assemble with the rest to reboard the train. All three were found dead in the hotel room, apparently victims of a gas leak from a faulty heater or stove.
Their bodies were place aboard the next southbound freight train, which was met by relatives at Lone Mountain, just about 25 miles from Sneedville. Winter snows in the mountains didn't make the wagon trip home any easier to endure. The three men were buried in the Wiley Cantwell family cemetery. They were not kids, they were all about 30 years old and had been well established in the local timber industry. How long did it take Sneedville to recover from this tragedy?
Pvt Ridley Amyx wasn't a youngster either. When he joined in September of 1917 he was 37 years old. He went overseas with Company L of the 117th Infantry, fighting along the Hindenburg line in Belgium. Amyx got through the war, but succumbed to influenze on February 3, 1919.
Pvt Sam Bolton was also in the 117th Infantry, with Company A. He died on October 8, 1918.
PFC Ernest Burke was just 21 years old. Killed in action with the 318th Machine Gun Battalion of the 81st Divsion, near the Argonne Forest on November 9th, 1918.
PFC William Purkey's location is unknown. He too was with the 117th Infantry, but he is listed was Missing In Action on 29 September 1918.
Another sixteen did not come home alive from World War II.
1st Lt Joe Carpenter was killed in action toward the end of the Battle of The Bulge, on 13 January 1945. He was a glider trooper with the 372nd Glider Infantry Regiment of 101st Airborne. His body remains with his troops, in Europe.
According to his draft card, 1st Lt Paul Curtis, Jr., was a 27 year old electrical engineer working for Harry Alexander Inc at Washington DC.
PFC Allen Pridemore almost made it through to the end of the war in Europe. He was killed in action on 6 May 1945, one day before hostilities ended.
Information is available about most of these men from the website of the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association. Take a few minutes to learn more of their stories.
Likely the most interesting story found at this memorial area is that of Navy Seaman 1st Class General Preston Douglas. He was a native of Newcomb, in nearby Campbell County. Douglas was listed Missing in Action, Presumed Dead, at the end of World War II. He was one of the 150 sailors that didn't survive the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943.
Douglas was aboard the USS Helena (CL-50). The ship took a Japanese torpedo in the bow and sank within 20 minutes. Other vessels of the battle group were able to pluck most of the survivors from the water the next morning, but dozens were left in the water when those same vessels had to leave the area under threat from more Japanese ships.
Some of those still in the water floated for days before being rescued. Many just disappeared and were, like Douglas, determined to be dead at wars end.
Douglas' family spent the next sixty-three years believed their sailor had drowned. In 2003 a resident of Ronongga Island in the Solomon Island chain found something curious; a bone or two, and a deteriorating US Navy dog tag. It took a couple of years for US authorities to confirm the identity, but the body recovered at Ronongga was the missing sailor. The now 65 year old mystery has changed dratically. Did he drift ashore alive? Or was his dead body discovered by a native and simply buried without any attempt to notify the Navy? Or, and this is the deepest part of the mystery - did young Douglas arrive on the island in condition to survive for a while?
When it was time to repatriate his remains, all in his family had died, with the exception of one sister. And she was afflicted by Alzheimer's Disease, unable to appreciate that her brother had been found. She died just before the remains arrived back in Tennessee, so the only relatives to greet him had never met him.
I often tell people that no war last just a few years. Wars can last a century or more. Because, the war is not really over until the last living relatives of the fallen have themselves died. Until that point, the war - more specifically the personal sacrifices of that war, are still first hand knowledge and not just text in a history book.