published Monday, March 24th, 2014

Soldiers who drowned in Cumberland River honored

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A ceremony in Middle Tennessee has honored the memory of 21 soldiers who died on the Cumberland River while training for combat in World War II.

The Tennessean reports a crowd that included WWII re-enactors, Boy Scouts, American Legion members and a family member of one victim attended the ceremony Sunday on the banks of the Cumberland River at Averitts Ferry.

The soldiers died after boarding a small assault boat on the river after days of heavy rain. The boat overturned early on March 23, 1944 and 21 of the 23 men on board drowned.

The tragedy occurred during the last of seven training exercises conducted to simulate combat during the war.

"They made a tremendous contribution . during their training here that saved thousands of lives," said Woody McMillin, author of "In the Presence of Soldiers," a book documenting the training in Tennessee. "(The training maneuvers) taught many valuable lessons and allowed us to perfect combat skills so that when soldiers went into harm's way, they did it in the most efficient way possible."

One soldier, James Kirk of Pocahontas, was from Tennessee while the others came from different states.

"A lot of families paid a heavy price for the freedom we enjoy today," McMillin said.

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