Hundreds gathered under a series of tents at Mountain Home National Cemetery Monday morning, with many sharing their stories of grief and loss. One of those people, Gold Star mom Brenda Shelton, laid a wreath at the foot of a memorial for the fallen, as an American flag draped casket lay ominously to the left.
Shelton lost her son, Senior Airman Benjamin White, 24, of the 48th Rescue Squadron, in Afghanistan, after he and the six other servicemen onboard an HH-60G Pave Hawk were shot down during a medical-evacuation mission in 2010. For her, the ceremony at Mountain Home — where White is buried — made her feel “blessed” to live in East Tennessee.
I’m glad to see as many people here remembering our fallen, a lot of people get (Memorial Day) confused with Veterans Day, but it is to remember those who gave their lives serving our country,” Shelton said. “I feel very blessed to live in this part of the country, it’s not always the same mindset (as) in this part of the country, where our fallen are honored and people are remembered.”
Shelton said she was “emotional” when she was carrying the wreath, partly because of the playing of “Amazing Grace,” saying it reminded her of her son’s faith and that she will “see him again one day.”
“We will be able to see our loved ones again as long as we have that faith,” she said. “It was very emotional.”
Shelton said her faith is what kept her going, and she said that without it she “wouldn’t have made it otherwise.” She also took solace in the fact that her son died doing what he felt he was meant to do.
“He loved what he was doing,” Shelton said. “He said, even after he was in Afghanistan ‘I’m exactly where God wants me to be.’
“Not everyone does understand (what it’s like to lose somebody in the military), but people who choose to come out here in the middle of the day on a Monday — you know they understand,” said Shelton. “Like I said, this community is very supportive.”
Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock also attended the ceremony and mentioned the importance of attending these events to show families that she, and the city, care about them.
“I hope they see that because I show up that we do care,” Brock said. “I think it speaks well of Johnson City, period, that we have such a revered place like the VA and to have our other veteran memorials throughout the city, that it’s very significant here in Johnson City — and all of East Tennessee — to remember our veterans and memorialize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
To close the ceremony, seven members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4933 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9 provided a three-volley salute, while Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Shawon Burgess and Sgt. Joseph Schult did the rendering of honors. JROTC Cadets from the Science Hill High School Color Guard performed the retiring of colors.