“Don’t forget the people who gave their lives – I almost gave mine – to keep this country free. That’s what it’s all about.”
Those were the words of Pearl Harbor survivor Durward Swanson during Saturday’s United Veterans of Blount County Memorial Day program.
In that moment Swanson, who was this year’s guest speaker, was describing what Memorial Day is all about.
“My message to the people out there is, don’t forget the people who gave their lives,” Swanson said.
Numerous veterans and their families attended Saturday’s program, held at the Blount County Courthouse. Several area officials were also there, including U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr., state Sen. Doug Overbey and state Reps. Art Swann and Bob Ramsey.
Duncan spoke briefly at the beginning of the program, paying thanks to the veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made.
“We are blessed beyond our comprehension to live in this country, the greatest country in the world,” Duncan said. “We are blessed beyond belief, and it’s because people throughout history have given their lives so that we might live in freedom.”
Lenville Sweet, a member of the Blount County AMVETS Post 22, sprinkled several Bible verses into his speech, which highlighted the unique qualities of the men and women who sacrifice everything for their country.
“When we think of today and what it means, it is once again easily said that our military, law enforcement and first responders wake up each morning and are willing to reflect the greatest form of love that can be given to another person,” Sweet said. “And that is the sacrifice of their life for our safety and security.”
The family of fallen Maryville Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr., whom the Blount County AMVETS post is named after, were in attendance. Robin Fershcke, Michael’s mother, told The Daily Times attendance for the annual program appears to be growing.
“It looks to me that more and more people are coming to honor our fallen, which is wonderful,” Robin Ferschke said.
Saturday’s was the first Memorial Day program since the completion of the new Blount County War Dead Memorial outside the Blount County Courthouse. For the Ferschkes, this was bittersweet.
“Today is a little different than others because of the new War Dead Memorial and how much effort people put into it for our children and loved ones,” Robin Ferschke said.
Michael Ferschke Jr., killed in Iraq in 2008 at the age of 22, is among the names engraved on the walls.
“At least I know he’s being honored,” Robin Ferschke said. “…It’s sad, it’s bittersweet, but it’s truly honorable.”
The new memorial also means a lot to Vietnam veteran James Lawson, commander of the United Veterans of Blount County.
“It’s special to me because I’ve got 20 friends on that wall in Vietnam who I grew up with,” Lawson said.
The memorial also lists Lawson’s cousin, World War II veteran Horace Costner.