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A Life Less Traveled

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 | Uncategorized | No Comments

By Tom & Judy Irmen

Like so many other area residents, we spent a portion of Saturday, October 1st lining Highway 411 to pay our final tribute to Marine Lance Corporal Frankie Watson, who was killed a week earlier in Afghanistan. Organizers had encouraged those wishing to attend to line Highway 411 from Vonore to Frankie’s hometown and final resting place, Madisonville.

We drove the designated route several hours earlier and we discovered American flags everywhere along Highway 411 and people were already beginning to line up on this unusually cool, early October morning to pay tribute to one of its own.

Many businesses along the route had replaced customary sale signs and banners with tributes to their fallen hero. Ft. Loudon Electric in Vonore suspended multiple American flags from utility company “boom” trucks, including a 60-foot-long flag on loan from the City of Madisonville, while fire trucks with their booms fully extended formed an arch from which an American flag was draped in front of Sequoyah High School where Frankie attended school.

And everywhere were throngs of people, young and old alike, some whom may have known Frankie, most of whom likely did not. Mixed amongst the onlookers, we caught glimpses of former military members who once again wore the hats and portions of uniforms they had worn many years earlier in service to their nation, just as Frankie had done.

The experience was very sobering, and not for these reasons you might imagine. While we collectively grieved the tragic loss of this young Marine, one couldn’t help but wonder how it was that Frankie Watson could have touched more lives in his all too brief 21 years with us than most of us could hope to touch in a lifetime.

You see, people came to pay their final respects to Frankie, not from Vonore to Madisonville as planned, but all the way from McGhee-Tyson Airport. A motorcade procession that we were told included in excess of 250 vehicles escorted Marine Lance Corporal Frankie Watson over the entire 30+ mile journey to his final resting place while onlookers paid their final tribute.

That this young man’s sacrifice inspired so many thousands to wait for several hours on this chilly October day for an all too brief glimpse of the hearse returning Frankie home defies explanation and is itself inspiring! Unless, of course, you knew Frankie.

It has become apparent that Frankie’s legacy will live on for far longer than he could ever have imagined. Committed to a life of serving others, Frankie’s friends have established a trust fund to provide underprivileged area youths the opportunity to attend college that might not otherwise have been possible. Those interested in donating are encouraged to contact Volunteer Federal.

And we cannot help but imagine that this is only the beginning of what Frankie’s legacy will bring to the people of his community for whom Frankie considered it a privilege to serve. Frankie’s legacy of a “life less traveled” will hopefully serve as an inspiration of what one person can accomplish in a lifetime, even if it only spans an all too brief 21 years.

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