Honoring our veterans

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Louie Hillis

Korean Prisoner of War

"It was a nightmare, nothing but a nightmare" Louie Hillis, POW

Louis Hillis is this year's Marshal for the Annual Veterans Day activities at the Cannon County High School as well as the Veterans Day parade being held on Saturday the 13th of November. Hillis will be representing the Prisoners of War (POW).

The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. However there were no military bodies in Korea at that time, only advisors. Louis and many others were put on transport ships headed to Korea.

"We were on a Japanese Hospital Ship being transported to Korea when we were torpedoed; it felt like the ship came out of the water when the torpedo exploded. I remember the alerts going off, by this time I thought I was in the Navy, because of all the ships I had been on and now we were being torpedoed. We looked out to sea and saw two destroyers coming to us, it was then we saw that they were Australian destroyers coming towards us dropping depth charges where they thought the submarine was.

The Australians hit the sub and Hillis and the others continued their crossing to Korea. When Louie and his battalion landed they went by foot to different bamboo villages, in all they traveled about 30 miles. He said they rested for the night all the while he said they could see flashes in the north. The next morning they left at 0830. Companies L and K were together heading into the pass.

Louie explained that the Pass was actually a horse shoe road, twisting and winding up and over a mountain. He said they came upon a dead North Korean officer. They continued forward towards the Pass when they came upon this long valley with rice patties on each side of them. Louie says that this is when the sound of rifle and machine gun fire began filling the air. Everyone scattered and tried to take cover. "I had a Lieutenant beside me and he had nothing but a pistol on him and he took my rifle and started up the hill.

The lieutenant told me there was a sniper around; he started up the hill when I saw him get shot dead on by the sniper, he had on the web type gallowses on his back and I saw them pooch out; he slid down the hill to me and started shaking his head and climbed back up the hill. I followed him, but I never got to see where he went because they grabbed me and started loading me down with 60 millimeter mortars because I didn't have a rifle on me. I climbed the hill to where they had the mortar launcher set up and we started sending those mortars, but I never could find where they hit." Louie recalls. After a fierce battle where the US took a beating a lot of the soldiers were separated from the others. It was at this time that Louis was captured.

The Koreans took Louie and the rest and marched them into Hadong village, he said it looked flattened and it was burning. "There was a place that looked like a church or a school to the left near the trees and when we got there it was packed full of GIs', so they took us across the yard and put us in a chicken hut (Louie and three more). Louie said when you are penned up like that and because of nothing to tell time he couldn't give us the specifics on some things that happened but he said it wasn't too much later that one of our aircraft came and dropped a napalm bomb onto that hut.

He said they had no radio communication with anyone. "Our boys didn't know we were behind the enemy lines, I found out later that 18 of the GIs' died in that building. I know because four of us could walk and we had to bury those GIs'. We did get their dog tags though and we gave them to Lieutenant Reid. The bomb went in the front and came out the back. I did hear that about 8 were taken from there up north on a death march and then to the Sunchon Tunnel."

"Around the end of September they rounded us all up and started us on our death march, we were headed towards a village called Namwan about 35 miles towards Seoul from our position. We knew what it was; we knew we all wouldn't make it. While walking if someone fell to the side of the path because they were not strong enough to go on, they would shoot them where they lay" Louie says. They traveled by night and slept during the day, if they could sleep. He said that the enemy would come around and throw lit cigarettes on them and wake them up and ask "why you come Korea?" Then they would tell them, when they got to Seoul they could have beef steak and bread, they knew to say bread and beef steak in English taunting us Louie said. One man was so dehydrated Louie said that he just gave up and fell to the side. "We wanted him to live and so Sgt. Winters and I put one arm over our shoulders and helped him make it to the bottom."

Louis and the other ones were repatriated at the end of September. Out of the 108 men in K Company (Louis's company) only 9 of them made it back. Louie and the other POWs were sent back home via different hospitals, he had lost 63 pounds from July 27th to the end of September.

They are listed as the very first POWs of the Korean War. He and the others were assigned to Fort Benning in the training division for new recruits until their time was up in the service. Louie left the Army with Purple Heart, The National Defense Medal, the POW Medal, Korean Service Award, the United Nations Combat Award, The Korean Presidential Medal and Commendation.

Louis and his wife Mary Nelle live in the Elkins community and are active in many military organizations. Louis asks that all come and support the veterans on this day that is set aside solely for them.

Grand Marshal for the 2012 Veterans Day Parade

By Colonel Jim Stone

Thomas (Tom) Nichols, known as Brother Tom, twenty years ago had a vision. He wanted to do something to preserve the history and proud heritage of Cannon County. He wanted to honor the Veterans of Cannon County. Tom called me when we were living in Murfreesboro, and asked if I would come and meet with several men in the community to discuss what we could do to honor our Veterans.

I remember I asked what they did at the present time to honor our Veterans. He said several good citizens got together on Veterans Day at the Courthouse, at 1100 oclock, the eleventh hour, the 11th day, the 11th month to read the names on the monument in front of the Courthouse. There were 59 names on that monument at that time. We discovered that one name had been left off and we fixed that. When Iraq came about we added another name, Frank B. Walkup, IV. We met at the Dillon Street Missionary Baptist Church. There were eight men present, Tom Nichols, Marvin Jennings, Aubry Nichols, A.W. Potter, Albert Thomas, Luther Mooneyham, Floyd Bogle, and myself.

The first year was a blessing, it was snowing and sleeting, as we tried to have our program on the steps of the Courthouse. It was so bad we had to move to the Cannon County High School Cafeteria. This was a blessing in disguise. God knew that we needed to be at the High School making our presentation to our children, so that they never forget the sacrificies and horrors of war. We declared the first year a success and vowed to continue and make the program and parade bigger and better each year. Now 20 years later we have done that. We have a great all day program at the High School and a tremendous parade to honor our Veterans.

Of the original 8 members that started this wonderful adventure, only two are left, Tom Nichols and myself.

I am proud to be a part of a good thing for our community. And what I like most of this adventure is that it was started by a Non-Veteran, Tom Nichols, who had a dream and a vision, and we lived that dream and vision. We now have an organization, "The Veterans and Concerned Citizens for the Veterans of Cannon County. We have a Veterans Service Officer, Penny Daniels, who works deligently to help the Veterans of Cannon County. And in my 35 years of military service Penny is by far the best Veterans Service Officer I have ever known. And, as Brother Tom said, "Just look at all of the fun we have had over these 20 years". We also have a newly chartered American Legion Post 279 in Woodbury, with the distinct honor on having Bobby E. Ferrell, the Commander of our Post 279, which is only two years old, to be selected as the "Legionnaire of the year for the State of Tennessee, which has 189 Posts, and 30,000 Legionnaires, in the State. Thomas Earl (Tom) Nichols born February 18, 1932, on Doolittle in a small two room house across from the Doolittle Cave. The Nation was just coming out of the Great Depression. His father was William Richmond Nichols and his mother was Lucille Davenport Nichols. He had one sister, Nancy Ann, who passed away at age 3. He has two brothers W.R and Roy Nichols. Tom loved working on the farm. He started plowing in the fields on the Dillon Farm, which is where the hospital and all of the others businesses are located now. Tom said he loved working with his Dad. He said each of them had a team of mules. It was a lot of hard work and he loved every minute of it. When he was eleven years old, the U.S. Army conducted manuvers on the Dillon Farm. It was a very exciting time for Tom. He said that his Mama would cook and give the soldiers hot food. The soldiers had a guard post in their yard, around the clock, so Tom got real close to the soldiers. Most of them were from New York, New Jersey, and California. The soldiers were here several days during the winter. They were with the 100th Infantry Division.

Tom said that it was a sad day when the soldiers left for war. He said he remembered crying when saying good bye to them. They had become like his brothers.

Later on Tom was drafted for the Korean War, but was turned down due to health problems. He was so disappointed and sad. He found out that instead of going in the infantry he could sign up for another branch of service. He chose the Marines, but was again disappointed because he did not pass his physical examination, and a lot of his friends left for war. Tom said that he had a lot of friends who were in World War II and never returned home.

Tom married Ruth Harmon in 1952. They were married for 53 wonderful years. Ruth passed away on November 5, 2005. They had a blessed life together. They had one daughter, Ruth Ann (Dennis) Watts and two grandchildren, Lee Ann and Daniel (Amber) and one great grandson, Levi, son of Daniel and Amber, who is already in Heaven.

Tom had many jobs working first at the shirt factory, then he went to Nashville and trained in concrete work. When things got slow he came back and worked in the box factory. Later on he went back to the concrete work and stayied with it for 33 years. Tom and his crew built many of the interstate bridges, some on the four lane highway to Woodbury. During all of of these years he also preached at the Millersburg Baptist Church and the Dillon Street Baptist Church. He had a radio broadcast, "Forward in Faith", for many years. He retired in March 1994 and began bee keeping. He said he did not know which is harder, bridge building or bee keeping. He enjoyed them both. Tom said that with God's help he was able to accomplish all of these things and he always put God first.

It is a great honor to have Tom Nichols as the Grand Marshal for our 2012 Veterans Day Parade. Tom did not serve in the military, because of medical problems, but Brother Tom served this County and the Veterans of Cannon County for twenty years. The citizens and veterans of Cannon County owe a great deal of gratitude to Tom Nichols. Because of Brother Tom's dream and vision the Veterans of Cannon County and American Legion Post 279 have put Woodbury and Cannon County on the map. God bless Brother Tom and the original eight men for their service to Cannon County, God bless our Veterans, and God bless this great county.


Concerned Citizen for the year 2012

This years' Concerned Citizen is Mary Nelle Ruhl Hillis.

Mary Nelle is 83 years old and admitted that she has volunteered most of her life. She is a retired federal employee with 30 years having worked at the Pentagon and at the Birmingham Ordinance Center in Alabama.

Mary Nelle, as she is known around here, used to roll bandages during WWII, and did many things to help the war effort and her country and she has worked at the auxiliary at the Stones River Hospital as long as her health was good. Mary Nelle has endured much during her long life; her father and family worked in the coal mines of northern Alabama. She married in 1947 to Paul Elkins. She met him in Alabama but he was born and raised in Woodbury Tennessee. Mary Nelle had to promise to move back to Tennessee after he retired. She had to "agree to that before he would go through with the marriage," said Mary Nelle as she laughed remembering the conversation. Paul was the uncle of Jerry Elkins who owns E&E Wholesale.

Several years later Mary Nelle married Max Ruhl, a retired Colonel of the US Army. They were married for seven years before he died.

In 2005 Mary Nelle wed Louie Hillis from Warren County, Tennessee. Louie is once again the Marshal representing the Prisoners of War (POW) this year. Louie is also 83 and Mary Nelle says she is through marrying any other person so Louie better stick around a while more. Mary Nelle Hillis has always supported the military men and women of this country. She asks that everyone come to the High School Gym on the 9th of November and show your support for the men and women who fight for our way of life.  You can see Mary Nelle and all the Marshals in the Parade on Saturday the 10th of November, starting at 1:00 p.m.



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Members Opinions:
November 07, 2012 at 9:25am
Only in America. Thanks Jim, Tom, Louie, Mary Nelle and others, for your envolvement in the Honoring of Veterans. Hooyah!!!

November 07, 2012 at 4:29pm
You know I've been thing about my earlier post and have come to realize my message was not as complete as it could have been. Having lived many places around this Grand Country, some towns a lot larger, some a little smaller. It is my opinion Woodbury and the Cannon County Community as awhole has much more Citizen envolment in honoring Veterans than most places. Thanks to the organizers and the supporters. Salute ~S~
November 11, 2012 at 5:41am
A salute to Pvt. Hillis on this special day and a salute to all veterans also.

Hillis' ill-fated 24th Division, from Task Force Smith's first encounter with the North Korean troops to the last man that got back into the Pusan perimeter, paid an enormous price.
The 3rd. Battalion, with 945 effectives, when first engaging the enemy, at the Hadong Pass (the day and place where Pvt. Hillis was taken prisoner) paid the price of having 495 men either killed, wounded or captured.
They gave us time to move in thru the Pusan port enough troops to hold the line there.

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