Our very own Cleveland — “The City With Spirit” — pales to no other in Tennessee, nor across America, in growth and growing diversity. But that which sets our hometown apart is not housing numbers nor new businesses nor expanding industries nor trend-setting education.
To be sure, all are happening here. And each is coming with unprecedented frequency. But even as the dust of progress gently layers our landscape, we have never forgotten the role of American patriots — our veterans. They gave us this opportunity. Their sacrifices opened gated doors. Their love of country transcended into a passion for community.
We owe them.
It is why we remember Memorial Day.
It is why we pay tribute to all on Veterans Day.
It is why we fly our colors on Flag Day.
It is why we salute our military on Armed Forces Day.
It is why we do the little things that mean a lot on Military Appreciation Day.
We do not glorify war. We do not cheer its killings. We do not seek a life of turbulence nor a time of turmoil. We do not deify our fallen soldiers though their ultimate sacrifice assuredly has placed them closer to the hand of God.
We want only to remember the past. We ask only that others respect its value.
It is why the week of Memorial Day is a special time in this town. It is why the week of Veterans Day is a precious moment of outreach in this community.
Both are reasons why news stories published on the front page in the Monday and Tuesday editions of this newspaper dominated the attention of readers.
On Monday, we announced the naming of Bradley County veteran Bill Norwood as the worthy recipient of the inaugural Veteran Service Award by the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council.
In the same edition, we told the story of another Bradley County son — Col. James Alan Marshall — who retired after a long and distinguished 27-year career with the United States Air Force. In a companion piece, we reprinted an article originally written by Marshall for “Combat Edge,” a quarterly publication of Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Titled “The Glove,” it was Marshall’s emotional account of the loss of a dear friend — a U-2 reconnaissance pilot named Maj. Duane Dively who died eight years ago in a tragic crash of his aircraft.
Truly, it became a fitting front page for a day so reflective and so emotional as Memorial Day.
On Tuesday, our coverage continued with a detailed account of the heavily attended Memorial Day Ceremony on the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza in historic downtown Cleveland. It also included the heartfelt words of a humble Norwood who accepted the STVHC award, but in doing so the Bradley County humanitarian refused to accept a title as “hero.”
He is not a hero, Norwood told his admiring listeners. He is just a country boy from East Tennessee who loves America and loves people.
Marshall, another longtime military man who excels in the spotlight but who shuns its limelight, chose to direct the focus of his words at a formal retirement ceremony to his family. Looking to Lt. Gen. Lori Robinson, Air Combat Command vice commander who officiated the observance, Marshall declared, “... Ma’am, you’ve seen the best I have to offer. I can honestly say I did my very best.”
Though Marshall’s convictions served as the key to his destiny, it was the support of his family that allowed him to give his best. To Kendra, his wife of 24 years, he presented a “Spouse’s Medal” for her courage and support. To his sons, Nolan, 9, and Joshua, 8, he gave “Children’s Medals” for “exceptional service” as the sons of an Air Force officer.
In Marshall’s eyes, if the ceremonial chambers included heroes it was his family — those who gave him unconditional love and undying support.
In Norwood’s eyes, the heroes on Monday were not any who held a shining plaque but those in the crowd who had remembered the sacrifices of others by their attendance in a simple ceremony intended as a much-deserved and everlasting “thank you.”
Like beauty, it might be said heroism lies in the eyes of the beholder.
In Bradley County sons like retired USAF Col. James Alan Marshall and Korean prisoner-of-war Bill Norwood, we see such beauty. It is a rare beauty, one whose roots grow from a deep corner of the heart.
As we said in the beginning, our hometown loves her veterans.
James Alan Marshall and Bill Norwood are two of our own, and each is among the best.
And both are much beloved, now and forever.