The Southeast Tennessee area has had many war heroes in both World Wars and Korea. The acts of courage of Charles Coolidge of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, Desmond Doss of Flintstone, Georgia, and Paul Huff of Cleveland, Tennessee, have been well documented in the news media over the years and the accolades are well deserved.
However, there is a young man from Athens, Tennessee, who along with thousands of other young soldiers participated in the Korean War conflict and was captured after eight months of service to his country and was incarcerated as a prisoner of war for 28 months. He was released on August 10, 1953, after a cease fire agreement was reached with the North and South Koreans and allied forces on both sides.
Although not recognized as a decorated war hero, Corporal Charles “Duke” Pearman was not forgotten by his hometown of Athens, Tennessee and on October 1, 1953, a parade was held in his honor. Flanked by his father and uncle in an open Cadillac convertible “he smiled only slightly as he nodded to the cheering hundreds of citizens assembled along the parade route in downtown Athens.”
In an article in the Chattanooga Times in August 1993 entitled Athens Honored a POW in 1953 reporter Bill Casteel described the events of the celebration on October 1, 1953. Some two thousand citizens turned out to unroll the welcome mat for Athens’ only known soldier who had been held captive by the North Koreans.
At the end of the parade route a ceremony presided over by Mayor J.P.
Cartwright took place at the McMinn County Courthouse and Duke was presented with several items including a $500.00 war bond, a key to the city, a scroll with the names of several hundred well-wishers, numerous gift certificates by local merchants, and membership cards in the local American Legion and Veteran of Foreign War by the local chapters.
Pearman later moved to Winter Haven, Florida, and became a successful carpenter. Like many POW’s who survived the war he received a large amount of back pay. He related that he bought a new Ford automobile and started drinking. A bad automobile accident that almost resulted in his death changed his involvement with alcohol. He subsequently joined a church and became an ordained preacher and restored several area churches for approximately 24 years before going into construction work.
Years later Pearman recalled that he wished he could go back to Athens and thank the persons who set up and conducted the parade that honored him for his military service as he had realized that “it means so much more to me now than it did back then.”
Duke Pearman’s experience was a reminder that every young man who served their country was a hero although not all were recognized and honored by their hometown. Fortunately, Athens, Tennessee, on October 1, 1953, was one that did not.
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Jerry Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org