He was right. I didn’t know what hot was.

There were lots of stories unfolding earlier today as the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and Tri-Cities Military Affairs dedicated the new Gold Star Memorial at the Veteran’s Park.

He was helping a veteran friend down a hillside and my thoughts were swimming in a Monday of obligations when I looked up from my camera and said, “Sure is hot today.”

He smiled from underneath his Vietnam Vet ball cap and American flag shirt. “110 degrees, 300% humidity, laying in a rice paddy while someone is shooting at you… now that’s hot.”

He was right. All of sudden, my problems seemed trivial as Jim McGhee started to tell me how he was one of 1700 “advisors” (quotation marks with his hands) to leave Kingsport for Vietnam in 1963.

“I was born and raised right here in the dirt.” Jim described his early life in Kingsport and although he served until 1967, when he returned home from the war, jobs were scarce. He worked for Holston Defense for 14 months, but after that, “you couldn’t buy a job.”

Earlier, I arrived at the dedication surprised by the number in attendance. All branches of the military were represented and a special stage was underneath the shade of the trees at Legion park featuring several Gold Star families who were being honored for their ultimate sacrifice.

Among several special guests, Hershel “Woody” Williams, one of five living Medal of Honor recipient helped to dedicate Kingsport’s memorial. Williams is 94 years old and was here to celebrate the monument, one of two in the state and a handful across the country.

I’m always honored to be a part of these occasions at the Veteran’s Memorial Park. Miles Burdine, Ernie Rumsby and Sam Jones are friends who are among many that worked on this project and I’m always inspired by their dedication to veterans in our community.

The new granite markers have four pillars that read, “Home, Volunteer, Sacrifice, and Service.” These words are etched on the side and centered in the middle is a silhouette of Benjamin D. White’s mother as she kneels by his grave. A victim of the War in Afghanistan, this image, and this story stands for everything this monument represents. Taking her photograph at this moment will probably turn out to be one of the most important moments I’ve captured at this location in Kingsport.

One of the things that Jim McGhee told me was how his grandfather built Gravely Road. He described Kingsport as one of the best places to live in the United States. He said, “no matter where you go, this is a place that you’ll for some reason, always come back to.”

Perhaps our honor to these brave men and women are just a part of that reason why.

Thanks to everyone who made this vision to come fruition. Our future citizens will always honor the memory of all the families represented by this marker and to them – words are hard to come by.