By Mary Meadows
Local residents and officials traveled to Wheelwright on Wednesday to dedicate the opening of an expanded veteran’s memorial.
The project took several months to complete, but the ceremony did not focus on all the work that went into it. Instead, it focused on honoring the memory of Floyd County residents who were killed while serving their country.
The addition to the memorial includes stones that honor Floyd County residents who were killed in action during the Korean War, Vietnam War and the War on Terror. Preexisting areas of the memorial also honor former Inland Steel employees who died in World War II.
Organizer Paul Hunt Thompson presented American flags to members of three families who lost loved ones while serving our country at the dedication ceremony — the bulk of which was focused on the veterans from those families.
“I hope that this brings a little more comfort to you,” Thompson told the families. “This is built so that these veterans will not be forgotten.”
The following veterans were honored:
Staff Sgt. Terry
Staff Sgt. Terry W. Prater was 22 years old when he was deployed for his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. Born in Ashland to Terry D. Prater, who lives in Auxier, and Cheryl Wills Hurley, who lives in Tennessee, Prater studied for two years at Prestonsburg High School before moving to Tennessee and later deciding to serving in the War on Terror.
He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 8th Calvalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvalry Division of the U.S. Army, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
On Aug. 5, 2004, while serving as a team leader of a platoon during combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Prater “used his own body to shield” another solider who had been wounded from a grenade blast.
Prater was on his second deployment in Iraq when he was killed in action on March 15, 2007, alongside three other soldiers in Baghdad. An improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations, causing his death and the deaths of three others who were with him.
Prater earned the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and other honors for his service.
“Terry’s father and I have known each other for a long time ... but it’s right that we honor these men,” Thompson said, prompting an applause from the audience.
After the ceremony, Prater’s father said his son “loved the service” and “loved life.”
He cried as he talked about how his son’s death impacted the family. He was 25 years old, had been married to his wife Amy for six years. When he was killed, is son Bryson, now 18, was five, and his daughter Madisen, now 13, was 18 months old.
“Madison, she don’t even remember him. At first, when he’d come in, he’d stop and he’d put a sucker in his pocket. And then when he’d pick her up, she’d reach over and get it. She remembered that for a while, but now she don’t remember that,” Prater said. “But his boy, Bryson, well, when he wasn’t on duty, Bryson was about by his side. And when he got killed, Bryson didn’t only lose his dad. He lost his best friend. Bryson has never got over it.”
He said his son called him about a week before he was killed and told him “how bad it was getting” in the war.
“He said, Dad, they’re keeping us out about 21, 22 hours a day,” Prater said. “He said, we come in, we don’t have a room now to go and lay down in the bed. They moved cots out in the hallway. He said we come in and we lay down on the cot and we might get to sleep an hour and they holler at us to get back up, get back out. And he said sometimes when we come in, we have time to go to the mess hall and get a sandwich. He said people don’t understand, we’re out there, and we’re carrying 101 lbs. of weight on us all the time and he said, we’re only allowed to stop one minute ... because they figured it takes two minutes for a sniper to get their sites set on us. He said I don’t know how much longer I can take it, dad. It’s a shame what they’ve got to go through.”
He was thankful that his son’s name was included on the Wheelwright memorial. It is the first veteran’s memorial in Floyd County that includes veterans who were killed in action in the War on Terror.
“Finally, the U.S. is starting to come back and respect the veterans. There for years, it seems like, they used them and throwed them down,” Prater said. “And now, it’s different. It’s not because I lost my son. There’s other families that lost their children, too. If it wasn’t for our veterans, where would we be?”
Jonathan Brett Thornsberry
Another Floyd County resident who gave his life during the War on Terrorism in 2006 was also honored.
Thompson said he knew Lance Corporal Jonathan B. “Jon Jon” Thornsberry practically all of his life, having married him and attended his funeral. Several members of his family were also veterans.
The son of Jackie D. and Judy A. Lawson Thornsberry of McDowell, Thornsberry was a 2002 graduate of South Floyd County School. He 20 years old when he enlisted in the Marines in 2004. His daughter was about 20 months old when he was killed two years later.
After training in South Carolina and North Carolina, he returned home to work as a coal miner. In 2005, he married his high school sweetheart, Tonie, and he was sent to Iraq the following year. He was killed two months after deployment.
He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, based in Tennessee. He was deployed for duty in August 2006, and while serving as U.S. Marine in a reactionary platoon during Operation Iraq Freedom, and he was killed by enemy fire on Oct. 25, 2006,
Thornsberry left behind a wife, Tonie Renee Little Thornsberry, his daughter, Haylee Jo Thornsberry, his brother, Jeffrey Thornsberry, his grandmother Alice Moore Lawson, as well as other family members.
He received the Purple Heart, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal and other honors.
Thompson called him “a true Marine.”
“His mom and dad remember him, and we should, too, as a fine young man that loved his wife, his daughter, his brother and the rest of his family,” Thompson said.
The Wallen family
Five sons of former Wheelwright residents Lee and Lula Wills Wallen were also honored at the ceremony. All five of them — Curtis Wallen, 98, of Stanville, Clarence D. Wallen, who was declared Missing in Action, Richard Wallen, now deceased, Samuel Wallen, now deceased, and Woodrow Wallen, now deceased — served in the U.S. Navy.
“I think that right there with Wallen family speaks of the way that Eastern Kentucky served. They have served and volunteered in all conflicts that this country’s had,” Thompson said.
Clarence Wallen was about 18 years old when he joined the Navy during WWII in 1941. After training in Florida, he became an Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class. He went missing on Oct. 2, 1943 — two years after he joined the Navy — after his plane disappeared during a routine seaplane training flight over the Gulf of Mexico. The plane was never found. No bodies were ever recovered.
Curtis Wallen, 98, was about 21 when he joined the Navy to fight in World War II in 1942, and he was still serving when his brother’s plane went missing. A Wheelwright native, he trained at the Hospital Corp School in Illinois after boot camp, was promoted to Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class at a navy hospital in Virginia and was inducted into the Fleet Marines to serve as a medic. He was deployed in 1945 on the USS Neville and sailed into the Pacific Ocean toward the island of Saipan. Arriving there in 1945, the sailors learned WWII had ended and he returned home to Wheelwright.
Richard Wallen was also about 18 years old when he joined the Navy in 1943. He signed up a few months before his brother’s plane when missing. He earned the rank of Aviation Radioman 2nd Class and was a member of the 102nd and 200th Patrol Bombing Squadrons in the Volcano Islands and Japanese homeland areas. He was honored for successes in his searches for downed airmen, antisubmarine patrols an fleet escorts while dealing with anti-aircraft fire and adverse weather conditions. He earned several medals for his service, including a the WWII Victory Medal, a Gold Star, three Combat Stars, a Navy Air Medal Star for “meritorious achievement in aerial flight” and for displaying “courage and devotion to duty.” He started working for the Ford Motor Company after the war. He died in 1992 in Michigan.
Samuel Wallen, 91, was about 23 years old when he joined the Navy in 1950. He spent his time there serving with an airplane maintenance crew on North Island and in Pearl Harbor. He was discharged from the Navy in 1954 and now lives in California.
Woodrow Wallen was about 19 when he joined the Navy in 1950. He was on board the LST 836 during the Korean War. He served most of his time in the South Pacific and was discharged in 1955. He died on Sept. 3 in Henderson.
Four cousins of these brothers — Ashland Wallen, Buster Wallen, Curtis Sizemore and Jo Wheeler Sizemore — were also recognized for their service at the ceremony.