NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, along with Major General Terry "Max" Haston of the Tennessee Military Department, for a special ceremony honoring three Tennesseans who died in action.
Among them was a soldier who was missing in action for 62 years. Private First Class Glenn Shely Schoenmann reportedly died in December 1950 as a Prisoner of War. The 20-year-old Grundy County native was involved in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea that November, when he went missing. Schoenmann's brother, Navy veteran Raymond Schoenmann, accepted the state's memorial presentation from Haslam, on behalf of his brother.
The other two soldiers were killed in action more recently. Sergeant Jacob M. Schwallie of Clarksville died in a roadside bombing May 7 in the Ghazi Province of Afghanistan. Schwallie was a 2007 graduate of Rossview High School, and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2008.
Staff Seargeant Christopher Michael Ward of Oak Ridge died of his injuries after a car bomb hit his patrol on April 6 in Kandahar. Ward served with Troop "A", 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Steward, Georgia. His mother, Joyce Ward, accepted the presentation on her son's behalf.
The presentation was extra special this year as well, because Governor Haslam declared Friday Gold Star Family Day. In previous years, Tennessee has observed Gold Star Mothers' Day and Gold Star Wives' Day, but Gold Star Family Day honors all family members, including fathers, siblings, and grandparents, who have lost a loved one in military service.
Gold Star Dad and Gold Star Mom Wayne and Brenda Gearheart accepted the first proclamation presentation from Haslam during the Governor’s Memorial Day Ceremony. Their son, United States Marine Lance Corporal Benjamin Gearheart was killed in a training accident at Camp Pendleton, California on August 27, 1997. Gearheart served three years in the Marine Corps to include a deployment to Kuwait. He was 22 years old.
“This occasion is set aside to remember the young men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” Governor Haslam said. “The State of Tennessee also pauses to remember the surviving family members on this Memorial Day weekend as they continue to cope with the loss of their loved one.”
“It is a privilege and honor to recognize these brave heroes who will live on in our memories,” Grinder said. “Gold Star family members are all around us and they need our support because their sacrifices are also a valuable thread in the fabric that ties our state and country together.”
“Memorial Day is a day to remember all those who died serving in the Armed Forces,” Maj. Gen. Haston said. “We honor these men and women today, but we remember their sacrifice every day.”
This year is also the first time the state has presented the “Honor and Remember Flag” to surviving family members. The flag is a combination of memorial symbolism to include a large red section which represents blood spilled by service members in America’s military throughout history. The blue star represents active service in military conflicts from the American Revolution to present day. The white border around the gold star recognizes the purity of sacrifice. The gold star reflects the value of life that was given. The folded flag signifies the final tribute to an individual life that a family sacrificed and gave to the nation. The flame is an eternal reminder of the spirit that has departed this life yet burns on in the memory of all who knew and loved the fallen hero.
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