published Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Highway memorial to honor veterans

IF YOU GO

* What: Rhea County Veterans Memorial Highway ceremony

* When: Aug. 25 at 10 a.m.

* Where: North city limits, near Rhea Medical Center in Dayton

* Who: Veterans and the general public

* Contact: Billy Gardner at 423-618-4309

DAYTON, Tenn. — For veteran Billy Gardner, paying tribute to America's fallen men and women is heartfelt.

"I didn't have to lose my life like others," Gardner said this week as he choked back his emotions.

Gardner and fellow veterans have worked for two years with state Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, to have part of the Rhea County Highway, or U.S. Highway 27, renamed the Rhea County Veterans Memorial Highway.

Cobb, an armed forces veteran himself, said he was approached by a veteran with the idea of renaming the portion of the highway within the Dayton city limits.

There is a memorial to local veterans on the lawn of the historic Rhea County Courthouse.

Gardner said veterans donated the money to purchase the signs from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, but he declined to disclose the amount. It was a lengthy process, he said, and he thanked Cobb for all his efforts.

Cobb, who managed the legislative procurement of the state's approval for the designation, said that as his last official contribution in the Legislature, he wanted to generate more recognition of veterans. "Fewer and fewer veterans ... serve in Congress and the Legislature," he said.

The unveiling of the sign on the route's northern end near Rhea Medical Center will take place at the dedication ceremony. Members of the "Rolling Thunder" POW/MIA group are scheduled to attend.

Gardner said veterans are interested in designating the entire stretch of U.S. 27 that is within Rhea County, and that it would not affect any previous memorials.

A segment of the highway near the high school in Evensville, Tenn., was renamed more than a year ago in honor of student Tyler Leon Sneed, who died in a November 2010 automobile accident.

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