Every so often, I join my in-laws Joe and Polly Riggan for lunch at their home in Lebanon.
I like to take the time to check in on them and always enjoy their company. The food is delicious, and (the best part of all) always free of charge. I always leave feeling full; not just from the food, but from the conversation.
My mother-in-law, Ms. Polly, is a historian of sorts. She avidly collects stories, photos and articles from all through the years. Recently, Ms. Polly shared a newspaper with me dated September 1969. The newspaper, tattered and weathered with age, shared all sorts of photos and facts from Wilson County’s history.
One photo in particular caught my eye. It was a photo of a young man in uniform. Under his photo were the words “First Wilson Countian killed in World War II”. As the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches, I couldn’t help but dig into his story.
The name of the man in the photo was Harry Swann. Harry was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. We searched among genealogy sites online and weren’t able to locate much, if any information, so we reached out to our Director of Archives Linda Granstaff.
Linda looked though the county’s archives to find out as much information as possible on the young man in the photo. Along the way, we found an interesting discovery. Though Harry Swann was the first reported Wilson County casualty in World War II, he was not, in fact the first casualty. It turns out that a gentleman by the name of William Knight of Mt. Juliet was the first to die from Wilson County in World War II. He was buried at sea in 1942.
We may not have a first-hand account, or very much information at all, about the life of Harry Swann or about William Knight. So, why are their stories important?
For one, their deaths brought the reality of World War II home to Wilson County. Their choices to sacrifice the one life they had is part of the reason we are living in freedom today. Their lives of service influenced the course of history forever, as does every life of service, when done so out of love.
Their stories are important because their stories preface our story. Without their lives, bravery and sacrifice, we would not have stories of our own to tell today.
My lunch dates at my in-laws always leave me searching for more information, and finding out more about my history, our history. As we pause to remember the events of D-Day, mourn the lives lost and commemorate the incredible sacrifices made, I hope that it will remind us all the importance of learning more about “where we came from”.
If we take time to sit and listen to the elders in our lives, we may uncover stories that we never knew existed. Stories of bravery. Stories of sacrifice. Stories of service. Ultimately stories that make us proud to be who we are at the end of the day.
Randall Hutto has been Mayor of Wilson County since 2010.