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Dog tags returned to soldiers sons

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BY CHELSEA BURNETTThe Wilson PostTwo sons of a deceased World War II veteran who was in the Lebanon area for the 2nd Army War Maneuvers in the 1940s returned Wednesday to receive something of their father’s believed lost when he was here – his dog tags.The two sons were presented with the dog tags during a brief ceremony held at Cumberland University. Roger McKinney, M.D., found the tags on his family’s molasses farm in late January, early February of this year. McKinney then contacted retired Army Col. Jerry McFarland who eventually found Steve Bryant, the eldest son of the deceased veteran Otto H. Bryant, living in Johnson City. Steve and his younger brother, Bob Bryant, were invited to Cumberland to be presented with their father’s dog tags. “Every so often history pops up again,” McFarland said at the beginning of the presentation.McKinney shared how he discovered the tags. “I was walking along our farm and picked up a few arrowheads and saw a little piece of metal and picked it up,” he explained. The floor was then turned over to Steve who was emotional as he shared memories and stories of his father. “Dad was raised in Virginia, in coal mining country,” he said, “and he went to work in coal mines when he was 14 years old.” Bryant explained that his father joined the Army late in life at 28 years of age. He was assigned to a Calvary division in Fort Meyers, Va. and was later selected to march at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C. Bryant noted that in his research he found that “less than 5,000 soldiers have been selected for that.”Nashville author Woody McMillan, who helped McFarland identify and date the tags, was also in attendance. He said, “The last two years I’ve been working on a book about the 2nd Army Maneuvers,” of which the Bryants’ father was a part. Upon meeting, McMillan informed Steve that seven large-scale maneuvers took place in Tennessee during the 1940s. Otto H. Bryant’s 10th Armored Division was involved in the 2nd Army Maneuvers in the summer of 1943, with headquarters at Cumberland University in Lebanon. McMillan said that based on the timing and general history of the maneuvers, Otto H. Bryant “fought all along the Cumberland River front.”Steve thanked everyone who helped in the endeavor to contact the family and return the artifact. “A lot of people would have kept something like this or thrown it away,” he said tearfully. He added, “Dad rose through the ranks to become a Staff Sergeant. “This is all a little emotional for us because Dad died when I was 20 and Bob was 18. We never got to talk to him about any of this. As I got old enough to want to know these things, Dad wasn’t there,” Steve said. Steve told courageous stories of his father like how his division were surrounded by German soldiers for three weeks in Bastogne, France, but eventually held them off. He said that his father’s was the first Army division to cross into Germany.Toward the end of the ceremony, McFarland presented Steve and Bob with footage of the 10th Amy Division that was obtained from a History Channel special that aired in the 1980s. Among the artifacts that were brought by the Bryant brothers was a Western Union telegram dated Sept. 8, 1944, sent from Otto H. Bryant to his brother letting his family know he was OK. Photographs of the soldier and Army documents were also on display. The brothers concluded by thanking Dr. Harvill Eaton, president of Cumberland, for having them on campus and shared a memory of attending Army reunions with their father and being bored. “It wasn’t until years later we realized we were surrounded by World War II heroes,” Steve said, adding, “We just thank you so much for returning this.”Staff Writer Chelsea Burnett may be contacted at Chelsea@wilsonpost.com.
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