ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Cheatham County Veterans Memorial Park is special to retired Spc. John Otis Nichols.
It commemorates lots of people, but namely, one of his best friends.
“He was from Massachusetts, I was from Tennessee. But we became the best of friends,” Nichols said, choking back tears. “I miss him all the time. I miss him ALL the time.”
The park is a humble staple and gentle reminder of so many sacrifices.
“We have a slogan that we memorialize those that have fallen, we remember those that were lost and we honor those that have served,” Nichols said.
For the most part, they didn’t hire people to build it in any way – other than some help with the parking lot.
“We love for people to see this park,” Nichols said. “Ninety-five percent of this park was built by volunteers.”
They have a special section for prisoners of war or missing in action – the POW/MIA.
A silhouette situated behind barbed wire with a watchtower in the background and the letters ‘POW*MIA’ above, it’s a symbol with a rich history.
It started with a woman named Mary Hoff, whose husband, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, went down with his plane over Laos in the Vietnam War.
“For quite a few years, we had no information at all. We do believe though, after many years later, that he did perish that day,” Suzanne Ogawa, Hoff’s daughter, said. “He’s just still unaccounted for and missing.
“We have not been able to bury him.”
The symbol flies on a flag every September over the Capitol in Tennessee for the whole month, as long as the legislature isn’t in session.
At one point though, it almost flew year-round when then-state Sen. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) pushed for it.
“This is very powerful. For those folks who are in that category, they deserve all the remembrance, all the respect, all the admiration and honor we can give them,” now-Rep. Green said. “Getting that flag up there, to me, it’s a no-brainer.”
But then he found out it costs $100,000 to put in a fourth flag over the building and scrapped the plan.
Though he’d argue $100,000 is a small price given the sacrifices that have been made. When asked if it’d have been worth it, he was clear.
“Absolutely for me. But you know the Tennessee Senate and Tennessee House, they run a tight ship and they balanced the budget – of course we have a constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget, so it didn’t make the cut, unfortunately,” Green said. “I wish it had.”
Instead, the bill was amended to stipulate the flag to fly during the month of September, the same month as the POW/MIA national day of remembrance.
“Recognizing them, keeping them always in our minds, never forgotten,” Green said. “That’s just something I think every American should do.”
That sentiment carries.
For veterans like Nichols, it’s a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice his friends – like PFC Gary Oliver and Sgt. Michael Day – and their families had to pay.
“The parents never knew. The family never knew,” Nichols said. “They were lost to them forever.”
But the park offers some comfort and some hope to the family and friends who never forget.
“The flags and the monuments are more about the living than the dead,” Nichols said. “So, it hurts. It hurt then. It still hurts now.”
On Memorial Day, the park will host an annual service that begins at 11:00 a.m.
Hundreds of Tennesseans remain listed as missing in action from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. News 2 looks at the efforts to keep their memories alive in the special report: Gone But Not Forgotten.