On a sunny Veterans Day morning, Cumberland University rededicated a monument honoring the memory of those involved in the Tennessee Maneuvers during World War II as well as two veterans and graduates in their 90s. 

University President Dr Paul Stumb, a Navy veteran, recognized the two oldest living Cumberland alumni — James Bass and Dr. Gordon Petty, who were in the military during World War II.

Bass and Petty were roommates at Cumberland in 1941 before they entered the military. 

“I was a member of a B-17 bomber crew and we flew out of England,” said Bass, who recalled bombing runs over Germany through clouds of anti-aircraft shells.

“I flew 25 missions but got credit for 23. We went on two where we didn’t drop bombs. You didn’t get credit if you didn’t drop bombs,” Bass said with a laugh. “Being at Cumberland before the war was the good old days. I sure enjoyed my time here. I was young then.

An audience member then approached Bass and thanked him for his service. 

“We just put on our uniform and went,” Bass told the man. “That’s all we knew to do.”   

The university was headquarters to the training exercises known as the Tennessee Maneuvers that saw 800,000 soldiers come through Middle Tennessee between 1942 and 1944. The area was chosen because of its similar topography with Germany, with the Cumberland River being similar to the Rhine. 

Wilson County Commissioner Jerry McFarland, a veteran and unofficial historian for the maneuvers, was one of several dignitaries to speak to the audience of nearly 200 people at the event on Monday.

“Over 25 percent of the Army came through Middle Tennessee ... 25 out of 94 divisions. Think about that for a minute,” McFarland said. “One soldier came out of Burma (later during the war), and one individual asked him if the jungle was bad. He said, ‘if you think this was bad you should have been in the Tennessee Maneuvers.’ ” 

McFarland mentioned the Averitt’s Ferry disaster where 21 men were killed when their boat capsized during a crossing of the Cumberland River on the final night of the maneuvers. 

A new plaque commemorating those men lies at the base of the rededicated obelisk, which has been moved to Cumberland’s new entrance from another place on campus.

Tennessee Adjutant General Jeffrey Holmes also spoke about the magnitude of the maneuvers and their role in preparing for World War II.

“To go from a 173,000-man army, to over a million is no easy task,” Holmes said. “And to take mere civilians and change them into the most powerful land force that the world has ever known is astonishing.”

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