Hometown Heroes: County officials recognize citizens for their service

Published 6:24 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

County officials recently recognized several local residents as “Hometown Heroes” for their service to their community and country.

Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and the Carter County Commission hosted a special ceremony on Monday afternoon to honor Earl Ellis, the late Todd McKeehan, and members of the Elizabethton Kiwanis Club as Hometown Heroes.

Earl Ellis

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Earl Ellis Jr. was born in March 1923 to Earl Ellis Sr. and Mary Lee Massengill Ellis. He was one of six children and attended Keenburg Elementary and then Elizabethton High School. After completing high school, Ellis took a job with Southern Railroad.

In May 1942, Ellis and his co-workers were listening to the radio after their shift when a broadcast from “Tokyo Rose” came across the airwaves talking about a Japanese victory during the during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The broadcast left an impression on Ellis and weighed on his heart, ultimately leading him to enlist in the U.S. Navy. When he went to the enlistment office, the officer told him he was underage and needed parental consent before he could join. Ellis took the forms, went outside the Chief’s office, found a table and signed his parents’ names to the forms — one with his right hand and the other with his left. He then returned to the Chief and handed in the paperwork and proceeded with the enlistment process.

Ellis was sent to San Diego, California, for his basic training. His testing scores led to his placement in the Aviation Mechanic & Machinist School. Afterward, he was sent to Gunnery School and then Advanced Gunnery School.

He excelled in Fighter Training.

Eventually, he was ready for combat and assigned to Torpedo Squadron 9, which conducted bombing raids in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and throughout Japan. His unit was extremely effective and was issued a Presidential Unit Citation.

While on military leave in 1945, Ellis was walking down the street in Bristol when he heard the war was over.

After leaving the military, Ellis took a job with the U.S. Post Office and later retired from there after 30 years of dedicated service.

Ellis has been an active member of both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Honor Guard. He has participated in over 1,000 military funerals, dedicated countless hours transporting children for the Shriners Hospital, and doing things for anyone in the community that needed a helping hand.

The late Todd McKeehan

Todd W. McKeehan was born in October 1964 to Tony and Jane McKeehan. As a child, McKeehan was active in the Cub Scouts and Little League. In 1983, he graduated from Elizabethton High School where he had been a member of the football and swimming teams. He also served as a life guard at the Franklin Club Pool.

McKeehan graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1988, having completed a double major in engineering technology and criminal justice. While attending ETSU, McKeehan went to classes during the day and at night he worked at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department. He also completed an internship with the United States Marshal Service.

In 1989, McKeehan joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) as a special agent and was assigned to the New Orleans Field Division. While serving there, he earned two Special Act Awards for significant contributions to two major investigations in 1990 and 1991.

McKeehan was a member of the United States Marine Corps (Reserve) which was called to duty for Operation Desert Shield in November 1990; he served for six months. He achieved the rank of sergeant and was a sniper in the reconnaissance team. His team was inserted into Kuwait a few days before the ground war started.

On February 28, 1993, McKeehan was one of many specially trained and well-disciplined ATF agents from the New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston Field Divisions assigned to execute federal warrants on the Branch Davidian Compound near Waco, Texas. The Davidians had been alerted to the potential raid by a local postman, and when the agents arrived, a shootout ensued. A long and difficult gunfight and standoff occurred over the next two-and-a-half hours. Four ATF agents, including McKeehan, were killed and 20 ATF agents were wounded while six Davidians were killed and another four injured during the incident.

Elizabethton Kiwanis Club

Kiwanis is a global organization that works to help shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, mentor the disadvantaged, and care for the sick. The organization works to develop young leaders, build playgrounds, raise fund for pediatric research, and much more.

Working together, Kiwanis Club members achieve what one person could not accomplish alone.

The vision of Kiwanis is to empower communities to improve the world by making lasting differences in the lives of children. Service is at the heart of every Kiwanis club, no matter where in the world it’s located. Members stage nearly 150,000 service projects and raise nearly 100 million dollars every year for communities, families, and projects. Kiwanis clubs focus on changing the world by serving children, one child and one community at a time. To reach more people and have a greater service impact on their communities, many clubs sponsor a Kiwanis family club.

The Elizabethton Kiwanis Club was founded in 1928 and remains an active organization in our local community. The Club has grown to include Key Club chapters at Unaka High School and Elizabethton High School, as well as K-Kids Clubs at East Side, Harold McCormick, and West Side Elementary Schools. The Kiwanis Club of Elizabethton celebrated their 90th year of service on March 2, 2018. During that meeting, Tim Broyles was recognized as the 2018 George F. Hixson Fellow.

Gifts to the Kiwanis Children’s Fund sustain the work of the Kiwanis organization worldwide. Since 1996, 26 members of the Elizabethton club have been recognized for their service through donations of $1,000 per member. Also, the success from the group’s work has been recognized at the state level.