Veterans Day: Heroes of East Tennessee
Major Homer L. Pease, a Johnson City native, is the embodiment of the heroes we honor on Veterans Day. As a young boy of 13, he felt called to serve his country. Pease lied about his age in order to enlist in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, where he volunteered as a paratrooper. He took part in D-Day in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. He was wounded while fighting the Germans, but because of his valor, he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Once recovered, now a sergeant, Pease rejoined his unit in Berchtesgaden, Germany where he was again wounded and received a second Purple Heart. When officials discovered Pease’s true age, they sent him back home to East Tennessee.
Pease graduated Science Hill High School in 1950, joined the Tennessee Army National Guard and studied at East Tennessee State College and Milligan College. Pease served in the National Guard for over a decade, then returned to active military duty until 1965, when he joined the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam. Pease arrived in Vietnam as a U.S. Army Ranger at 36. While there, he advised and co-led the Army Republic of Vietnam Regiment. On November 19, 1966, Pease led a ground combat operation at Ba Tri Kien Hoa Province, South Vietnam. He lost his life on the battlefield, but saved many lives that day by locating enemy positions. For the bravery he displayed, he was awarded the Silver Star and was promoted to Major. Major Pease lived a short but impactful life, and his legacy lives on today.
Major Pease’s remarkable story is why I introduced legislation in the last Congress to rename the Johnson City Post Office after him. After President Trump signed this bill into law last December, I was honored to join members of his family and local leaders at a renaming ceremony last month. Major Pease’s story is one of dedication and valor, and it reminds me of so many others in East Tennessee whose stories should be shared.
Major General Gary Harrell, from Jonesborough, Tennessee, received the first 4-year ROTC scholarship at ETSU in 1973. Harrell began his military career in the 82nd Airborne division as a 2nd Lieutenant platoon leader in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After he finished in the 82nd, he went on to graduate from special forces training, where he was assigned to Fort Gulick in Panama. While there, he graduated from the US Army Scuba Course and was chosen to be an assault team leader in the first CINC IN-Extremis Assault Force. Harrell left Panama and went back to the 82nd to be a Company Commander in the vaunted 82 Airborne Division. While serving in the 1/505 Infantry Battalion, he was assigned to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) to help Israel withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and turn the Sinai over to Arab forces. Harrel then went on to volunteer for the Delta Force Selection and was troop commander in Operation Acid Gambit- a successful mission to rescue American civilian Kurt Muse from Cárcel Modelo prison in Panama City.
Harrell started the operation that ended in the capture of Pablo Escobar and was the ground force commander for what is now known as ‘Black Hawk Down.’ Once Harrell finished his time as Delta Force Deputy Commander, he went on to become the joint-security director for United States Central Command when the USS Cole was attacked by al-Qaeda and then became the special operations commander for the Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT). After serving in that role, Harrell returned to Fort Bragg and became the deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Special Forces command. He served for over 35 years and took part in nearly every operation over that time. Harrell finally retired in 2008 and returned to his home in East Tennessee, where he lives today.
These are remarkable stories, which is why I’m proud to participate in the Veterans History Project, an initiative aiming to preserve the stories of every living veteran for future generations at the Library of Congress. This Veterans Day, let’s give thanks to our veterans and servicemembers who put their lives on the line to defend the freedoms we hold dear. Stories like those of Major Pease and Major General Harrell are what makes us all proud to be Americans.