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Photo by Ryan LewisJasper VFW Ladies Auxiliary dedicated a cemetery plaque to WWII Medal of Honor winner
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From left to right: Marion County Mayor David Jackson, Kimball Mayor Rex Pesnell, Pesnell's granddaughter Ansley Phillips, Teresa Ford, Lindsey Ashworth, Julia Cash, Melinda Chance, Lynette Frost, Marion County Clerk Dwight Minter, and VFW member John Carson.

KIMBALL, Tenn. — Almost a year ago, Melinda Chance was notified via Facebook that a Medal of Honor recipient is buried at the Cumberland View Cemetery in Kimball.

"I asked around and no one realized that," she said.

Chance is a member of the Jasper, Tenn., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6362 Ladies Auxiliary, and when that group's members investigated, they found the grave of Staff Sgt. Raymond Cooley next to a broken-down flagpole.

"It was in pitiful shape," she said.

The Ladies Auxiliary members vowed to do something about it.

On Wednesday, the group unveiled a bronze plaque placed at the entrance of the cemetery in Sgt. Cooley's honor and a new 20-foot flagpole by his grave with the American and Medal of Honor flags.

"We were proud to be able to bring recognition and honor to this gentleman," Chance said. "He's the only one [Medal of Honor recipient] that is buried in our county."

Kimball Mayor Rex Pesnell said city administrators donated $1,000 to help with the memorial.

"We were able to contribute a little bit to help make it happen," he said. "We're glad to be able to do that."

County Mayor David Jackson attended the ceremony and said he has lived in Kimball all of his life and never knew Sgt. Cooley was buried there.

"We appreciate what's been done here today," he said. "I thank the ladies for what they've done, and certainly Sgt. Cooley for his service to our country and giving us the freedoms that we have today."

While fighting on the island of Luzon in the Philippines during World War II, Sgt. Cooley found himself in a life-or-death grenade-tossing contest with entrenched Japanese soldiers.

Sgt. Cooley single-handedly attacked two machine gun nests that had the Americans pinned down, tossing grenades back-and-forth with the enemy along the way.

"I borrowed all the grenades I could carry and began throwing them," he said afterward. "But those J—- threw them back at me."

After destroying one of the machine gun nests, he continued on his stomach toward the second. When he pulled the pin on another grenade, he noticed his comrades had joined him in the fight and completely surrounded his position.

There was nowhere for Sgt. Cooley to safely toss the "cooked" grenade, so he squeezed his hand around it and clenched his teeth.

The explosion severed his right hand and caused other serious injuries to the right side of his body, but Cooley survived.

"How many of us could say we'd do the same thing?" Jackson said at Wednesday's ceremony.

"He was able to survive that and is probably the only serviceman to ever survive a grenade blast like that. It speaks volumes about his dedication to his men."

President Harry Truman presented Sgt. Cooley the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 23, 1945.

He died in a car accident near South Pittsburg, Tenn., just two years later.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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