Veterans group stands watch over Johnson City memorial following thefts

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – The military support group, Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter Four, said it will now stand guard at the Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial after someone stole flags belonging to the site.

People around the Tri-Cities set aside time Monday to honor the men and women who lost their lives in service to our country. Several Memorial Day ceremonies were held here in our region, including one in Kingsport at J. Fred Johnson Park.

Monday night, people who attended the Johnson City ceremony had a thirst for justice in the back of their minds because of the stolen American flag and “Prisoner of War – Missing in Action” flag.  The same thing also happened back in February. The flags have since been replaced.

Despite the recent thefts, that didn’t deter dozens of people from coming out to honor the fallen.

Brenda Shelton’s son Benjamin Daniel White graduated Science Hill High School in 2004 and joined the Air Force in 2006. He lost his life in Afghanistan in 2010 at just 24-years-old and just six weeks into his first deployment after his helicopter was shot down during a rescue mission.

Shelton honors her son every year at this ceremony; ”He had blue eyes like his Momma,” Shelton said.

She spent Monday afternoon honoring her son alongside dozens of others paying their respects at the Memorial Day Ceremony.

The stories of fallen soldiers, Private First Class Lester Potter Harris, Private First Class David Stanley Renfro and First Lieutenant Harry Ray Stewart were all shared at the ceremony. Three stories out of the 352 soldiers who’ve died from Washington County are shared each year but this year was different.

Brenda Barnett, Chair of the Johnson City-Washington County Veterans Memorial Foundation said she heard from guests that this year was the best ceremony ever.

“I think the enthusiasm because of the theft of the flags has re-energized people’s patriotism,” Barnett said.

The Rolling Thunder group made up of veterans, civilians and others, works to protect veterans in our community and they’re now planning overnight watches to ensure the thefts don’t happen again.

“We challenge them to step across us when we’re on duty because we’re here to represent that American flag,” Thomas Kellum of the Rolling Thunder organization said.

Memorial officials are looking into installing cameras and they’re also talking with a local flag about possibly getting anti-theft devices installed on the flag poles to ensure thefts don’t happen again but until then, Rolling Thunder is planning overnight patrols.

The Johnson City Police Department is investigating these thefts.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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