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Veterans Day honors those who served

Elmer Davis, director of the U.S. War information Office during World War II and former New York Times reporter, once said: “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

Farragutpress recently spoke with some of Farragut’s own brave men who risked their lives to help keep America free in honor of Veteran’s Day, which is Tuesday, Nov. 11.

William “Bill” Coker, a life-long Farragut resident, is a survivor of the May 18, 1945, bombing of the U.S.S. Franklin by a Japanese kamikaze pilot, and was one of the 704 brave men who volunteered to stay aboard the crippled ship and bring her home under her own power.

“I wasn’t a hero or anything,” Coker said. “But they sure made me out to be one when we got back to New York.”

Coker, who volunteered for the U.S. Navy as a 17-year old Farragut High School student, was below deck when the Franklin was hit.

“I had just gotten off duty and was below deck in line for breakfast, and that is what saved my life. Those men on deck didn’t have a chance,” he said.

Coker and several of his shipmates were trapped below deck for about three hours.

“There was one fellow there who said if he was going to die, it was not going to be in that hole. He was the only one with a flashlight, so he was at the head of the line. We all grabbed onto each other’s belts and started climbing.

Coker said the group shuffled along for a while trying to find an exit that was not on fire or a hatch that was not too hot to touch.

“We came around one corner and I smelled fresh air. That was the best thing I ever smelled in my life,” he added.

Coker said he believes Veteran’s Day is a nice way to honor those who have risked their lives for their country, but he believes what he did was “just something I did in the service of my country.”

Horace Hamilton, another life-long Farragut resident, was drafted out of Farragut High School’s class of 1945.

Hamilton was first sent to school by the U.S. Navy to learn to be a cook and then shipped to Lido Beach, N.Y., for amphibious training.

We were being trained for the invasion of Japan,” he said. “We left there and went to Treasure Island, San Francisco, and when we got there the Japanese surrendered, and that changed everything,” he added.

Hamilton was sent to the Philippines aboard the U.S.S. Teaberry, where he served as a cook until he was discharged in June 1946, when he came back to Farragut and married his high school sweetheart, Adra Ellen Fox.

Hamilton said Veteran’s Day is special to him.

“One of the things that has always meant so much to me is that they honor the ones that are still here as well as the ones that have gone on. I think it is wonderful that they honor the ones that go back, not just to World War II, but all the way back to the Civil War.

“I think it is wonderful to put your flag out and let people know you are proud of your country, which I am,” he added.

American Legion Knoxville Post 82 will present its 83rd annual Veteran’s Day Parade beginning at 10:45 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 11, along Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.


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