The Memorial

The Story Behind the Memorial


J.D. Thompson (Sullivan County), Korea, Died September 14, 1950

The idea for the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial was conceived in 1999 when J. William Felton III of Knoxville visited the Normandy beaches in northern France with his wife, Betty.

Felton, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, was deeply, moved by the thousands of white crosses in the Normandy cemeteries, marking the graves of those who never got a chance to return home and pursue careers, raise families, further their education, own their own homes, or otherwise participate in opportunities and advances of post-World War II America. So he vowed to return home and work for a suitable way to honor and remember those who died.

During the ensuing months and years that Col. Felton doggedly pursued his dream, the scope of the project was expanded to include all names on the physical Memorial of those who died in military service from the beginning of World War I. And the monuments would be accompanied by a museum / learning center as a living link to current and future generations. That facility, now on the drawing boards, has been officially named the Veterans History Center (VHC) of East Tennessee.

Consideration of the geographical spread for the project ranged from Knox County alone to the entire state. Finally, the 35-county, regional East Tennessee area was chosen. The counties are those of the eastern grand division of the state plus Fentress and Sequatchie counties. Thus the project’s reach is from the Virginia border to the north to the Georgia border to the south, and from the North Carolina line on the east to the Cumberland Plateau to the west.

Early supporters of the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial were Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and U. S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan. At Mayor Ragsdale’s request, Knox County Commission approved $1.25 million for the project. Rep. Duncan was instrumental in gaining approval by Congress of a $475,000 HUD grant. The State of Tennessee provided an additional $500,000.

On assuming his office, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam promised to find a site for the Memorial. In early 2006, Haslam recommended – and City Council approved – the 8000- square foot plot at the northern edge of Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park. A Veterans History Center will be developed adjacent to the site, at the historic L & N Railroad Station.

The list of names for the Memorial was compiled and researched for the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association by Cynthia Tinker of the UT Center for the Study of War and Society. At the outset, the list totaled less than 5000 names. On completion of this meticulous process to check for completion and accuracy, the total is now over 6000.

The Memorial itself was designed by architect Lee Ingram of the Knoxville firm Brewer Ingram Fuller. Access Museum Services of Nashville has been retained by ETVMA as consultants for development of the Veterans History Center.

Memorial Facts:

  • There are roughly 138 tons of granite in the Memorial – over a quarter of a million pounds.
  • Most of the granite – all the white stone in the monuments and all the gray paving – comes from about 40 miles west of Yosemite National Park in California.
  • The red granite paving comes from about 75 miles north of San Antonio, Texas.
  • The black granite border is from a Quebec quarry about 125 miles north of Quebec City and about 135 miles from Maine.

The Memorial Bell:

  • Weighs 693 pounds; Musical Note: B; Diameter 31 ½”; Rung by Inside electric striker (the clapper is mounted inside the bell); Cast of 80% copper and 20% tin; Cast by Petit and Fritsen Royal Bellfoundry, The Netherlands; Sold by The Verdin Company, Cincinnati, OH