published Saturday, June 28th, 2014

U.S. 27 North Chickamauga Creek bridge renamed

A crowd watches as Bart Underwood, right, and Ben Underwood unveil a sign at a ceremony Saturday renaming a bridge on U.S. Hwy. 27 north of Thrasher Pike in honor of Lonnie Allen Floyd, who was killed in the Vietnam War.
A crowd watches as Bart Underwood, right, and Ben Underwood unveil a sign at a ceremony Saturday renaming a bridge on U.S. Hwy. 27 north of Thrasher Pike in honor of Lonnie Allen Floyd, who was killed in the Vietnam War.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Clouds threatened to dump rain on the crowd gathered alongside U.S. Highway 27 Saturday at the bridge over North Chickamauga Creek.

But the rain held off until a sign was unveiled, officially naming the span the Spc. 4 Lonnie A. Floyd Memorial Bridge.

"I'm honored that my colleagues would allow me to name a bridge for my brother," said state Rep. Richard Floyd, Lonnie's older brother, who is retiring from public office this year.

Friends and family talked and told stories about growing up with Lonnie Floyd, killed in action in Vietnam, Jan. 14, 1967, while serving with Company C, 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Lonnie was 19 when he died, the fourth of five children. He was posthumously given a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor.

An athlete at Chattanooga City High School, he loved to play football up until he broke his shoulder in the first game of his senior year, said Brenda Underwood. Lonnie's younger sister, she has visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., every year since it was dedicated.

After the injury. Lonnie lost interest in school and decided that the Army would be a good fit for him. He enlisted in August of 1965.

Lonnie was not a big man -- about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing around 140 pounds. Usually quiet and reserved, he "could fight like the best of them" if he felt like somebody was being mistreated, Underwood said.

"Lonnie was always looking out for the underdog," Underwood said.

He decided to be a paratrooper and joined the 82nd Airborne Brigade. Assigned to the finance division, he would have been behind the lines. But Underwood said he wanted to be where the action was, and joined the 173rd shortly after arriving in Vietnam.

Just a couple weeks before he was killed, Lonnie had decided to re-enlist. He felt that he was doing what needed to be done, said Underwood.

"That's the way he always was," Underwood said. "He gave 110 percent whether it was in football, or whether it was in the Army."

Rep. Floyd said that honoring veterans had been a priority of his while he served eight years in the General Assembly. He worked with his fellow legislators in Hamilton, Sequatchie, Bledsoe and Cumberland counties to rename U.S. Highway 127 the Veterans Memorial Highway, stretching from Signal Mountain to Sgt. Alvin C. York's house in Fentress County.

"I wanted to do something like this to honor my brother," Rep. Floyd said. "But also to remind everybody every time they cross this bridge that somebody died for this country.

"Freedom's not free, it's not cheap, and everything we have in America, somebody died to preserve it for us, and that's what this is all about."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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