Sonny and Beverly Washam were enjoying a Valentines Day dinner on Feb. 14, 2006 when they received the news that is the ultimate nightmare for the parents and spouses of servicemen and women in times of combat: their son, 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Rusty Washam, had been killed.
Cpl. Washam, of Huntsville, and Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Barnes, 20, of West Monroe, La., were killed near Qa’im, Iraq, when their vehicle was attacked by a suicide car bomber. Washam had just spoken to his mother by phone three days earlier, when he turned 21. His final words to her: “I love you, Mom.”
The 2003 Scott High School graduate and father of two, who followed his own father and two of his brothers into the military, was the 110th Scott Countian to die in defense of America since the start of World War I.
As Scott Countians use the extended Memorial Day holiday weekend to celebrate the arrival of summer with cookouts, pool parties and other events, it is the stories of those 110 Scott Countians who went off to war never to return for whom the weekend is formally intended.
Congress designated Memorial Day as an official holiday in 1971, but its roots — as Decoration Day — date all the way back to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.
Many northern states adopted some form of memorial holiday in late May in the 1870s and 1880s, a day on which those who died in the Civil War were honored. After World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate fallen military personnel from other wars, and it officially caught on in the South.
The Oneida post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold its annual Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. Monday. Wreaths will be laid at the memorial wall, and veterans will gather to commemorate those Scott Countians who served in the armed forces, dying both in times of war and in times of peace.
For the most part, though, the sacrifices of Scott Countians who have died in war will be forgotten as the holiday is marked by food and celebration.
Scott County had not yet been formed when the first three major American wars took place — the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War — although a commemorative plaque in front of the old Scott County Courthouse in Huntsville, placed during the bicentennial celebration of 1976, denotes the Scott Countians who served in the war of independence.
Meanwhile, there has never been an official list compiled of Scott Countians who lost their lives in the Civil War, although research conducted by Independent Herald founder Paul Roy for the Scott County Historical Society, as part of his book on the Civil War’s local impact, indicated more than 450 Civil War soldiers with connections to Scott County.
It is known, though, that 19 Scott Countians were killed in action in World War I, between 1917 and 1918, as more than 320,500 Americans lost their lives. Among them were William Blevins, William Brown, Huffman Davis, John W. Fletcher, James Gibson, Robert M. Hughett, Elsic Lawson, Hugh T. Lewallen, Lawrence Philllips, Guy D. Frayar, Onva Phillips, Hett Phillips, Lonus Reed, Fred Sexton, Mitchel Sexton, Jesse Slaven, Sherman Stanley, Edson L. Toomey and Jasper York.
By far the most costly war for Scott Countians was World War II, when some 70 servicemen from the local community died in combat. Among them: Augrie Adkins, Francis L. Allen, Lonus A. Ashburn, Hollis F. Bell, Ora J. Blaw, Jane M. Blevins, Ralph Blevins, Billie B. Carroll, Richard Chambers, Willie C. Clark, Fred C. Cotton, Lenvil Crabtree, Clinton E. Cross, Markie Cross, Millard Cross, Floyd Daugherty, Vernon W. Duncan, Ray Dykes Jr., Marion C. Ellis, Albert Epperson, Oliver R. Evans, Hurstle Goad, Sam J. Goad, James F. Goins, Johnnie E. Gooch, Robert W. Hall, Huston Hamby, Tom Henderson, Claude V. Hensley, Dilmon Jeffers, Oliver Jeffers, Theodore S. Jones, Murry C. Laster Jr., James A. Lawhorn, Ben Opal Lay, Junior Lawson, Hurst Lewallen, Warren H. Lewallen, Harold E. Lloyd, James M. Lovett Sr., Archie D. Lowe, Colvy B. Madden, George C. Marcum, John F. Millsap, Howard P. Morris, Virgil L. Neal, Burl Newport, Hobert Owens, Ralphard Payne, James E. Phillips, Arthur Sexton, Woodrow W. Sharp, John R. Slaven, Ova Smith, William S. Stanfill, Audney Terry, James A. Terry, Theron C. Terry, Howard Thompson, Herman Trammell, Clarence B. West, John H. West, Ray West, Cordell Wilmoth, George Wilson, Mack H. Yancy, Dana T. York, Elwood Cross, Kelsie O. Duncan and Oscar Stanley.
Another seven Scott Countians were killed in Korea, including Bailey Keeton Jr., who was missing for decades before his body was finally recovered and returned home to Hazel Valley Cemetery in Oneida in 2015. Others included Charles Corder Jr., Roy E. Cross, Roy W. Matthews, George D. Russ, Van N. Terry and Willis Watters.
Thirteen Scott Countians were killed in Vietnam, including Ralph Byrd, James L. Chambers, William L. Coffey, Doyle Foster, Ernest Gibson, Joe Edd Griffith, James Wm. Hunley, Phillip E. Ireland, Tommie Keeton, Donald E. Madden, Michael D. Terry, Denny L. Washam and James D. West.
A list of Scott Countians who have died in combat is engraved on the Veterans Wall at the VFW, the site of Monday’s Memorial Day service.