Honoring East Tennessee’s Veterans

The East Tennessee Veterans Memorial: A Pictorial History of the Names on the Wall, Their Lives, Their Service, and Their Sacrifice by John Romeiser with Jack H. McCall. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2020. Hardcover, $45.00)

East Tennessee Historical Society Seal
Authored By Darrin Haas on November 14, 2023

Adjacent to Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park and under the shadow of the Sunsphere, an 8,000-square-foot area–with 32 granite pylons, benches, a bell tower, and a circular plaza—honors the East Tennessee veterans who sacrificed their lives for their country and pays tribute to the area’s tradition of military service.  More than 6,200 names from the state’s 35 eastern counties, as well as the area’s fourteen Medal of Honor recipients (beginning in World War I) are inscribed on those pylons; additional names are added annually as they are discovered.  Dedicated in 2008, the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute and place to remember and reflect on those Tennesseans who gave their lives.  It has subsequently become an integral part of the community during veteran-centric holidays and commemorations.

John Romeiser (Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Tennessee) and Jack McCall (a Knoxville attorney who writes extensively on military history) have written a book that serves as a companion to the memorial and a ready resource on those lost in service from the area.  It profiles the East Tennessee Medal of Honor recipients and over 350 servicemembers, who represent a small sampling of the names currently engraved on the granite pylons.  In this way, the authors lend depth to the memorial, showing what these veterans endured and why they are so justly honored.  Using stories primarily collected by the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association (ETVMA) website (where researchers and families are free to input information about service members), the authors carefully chose and verified the veterans’ stories and images included in the book.  Romeiser and McCall also selected veterans whose stories show the full nature of military casualties and loss while also humanizing those names engraved in granite.

But the book’s purpose is much more than to complement the memorial.  It also supports the goals of the ETVMA, which are to remember, honor, educate, and inspire the public.  Education is the organization’s most important goal and where this book excels.  Much more than an encyclopedia, the authors show the full nature of tragedy and loss that these service members suffered.  To do this, they divided the book into sixteen thematic chapters focusing on different time periods (starting with World War I).  Each chapter begins with a historical introduction explaining the period covered and then tells the stories of the veterans killed.  For example, Chapter Six highlights the Tennesseans who suffered as prisoners of war (POWs) during World War II.  It begins by explaining the differences between the various German and Japanese POW camps as well as the legal requirements (the Geneva Conventions) they were supposed to uphold.  Then the chapter transitions to those Tennesseans lost at the camps—who they were, what they endured, and how they died.  Instead of just providing individual vignettes, the veterans’ stories are interwoven into a dynamic narrative, moving from one story to another while the authors provide additional historical context.  Other chapters cover different periods and topics, including the 30th Division in World War I, Japanese “hellships,” women who served, and Vietnam.

The last chapter is “The Roll of Honor,” which lists all 6,262 names currently on the memorial pylons chronologically by conflict, then alphabetically by county and branch of service.  It is a reliable resource for those interested in knowing who is represented and in verifying if a known veteran is memorialized or missing (since additional names can be added to the memorial). The book also features notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, and a comprehensive index.

Overall, Romeiser and McCall have created an extensive volume that properly honors the sacrifice of all the men and women remembered at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial.  This book makes a valuable addition to local libraries, any veterans’ organizations, and everyone who has an interest in East Tennessee’s veterans and all that they have sacrificed for our state and nation.  As such, it was recognized by the East Tennessee Historical Society with an Award of Distinction.

Darrin Haas, Tennessee National Guard Public Affairs Office

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