KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Several members of the Gibbs community came together to help build a temporary memorial for fallen soldier Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss.
Knauss went to Gibbs High and was raised in Knoxville. He was one of the 13 soldiers who was killed in combat in an attack outside Kabul’s airport.
Knowing that Knauss was a local hero who sacrificed his life for freedom, members of the Gibbs community wanted to step up and show the family Ryan was in their thoughts and would be remembered.
Justin Pratt, one of the organizers of the memorial, said people kept reaching out to him about wanting to do something to honor Knauss.
Pratt then reached out to a few friends, Knauss’ family and found a location to set up the memorial.
“Power T Graphix in Halls, Travis Kitts was amazing to help us with this project. … Kurt Weigel was overgenerous to allow us to use this corner. He even allowed us to remove his sign here to be able to put this up,” Pratt said.
So the idea turned into a reality: a banner reading ‘Gibbs Community Hometown Hero,’ with Knauss’ military picture and title; a little mailbox attached to the banner for people to write letters to the family; a cross engraved with ‘Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss;’ and 13 flags planted in the ground in front.
It’s located at the Weigel’s on the corner of Tazewell Pike and Emory Road.
Pratt said the next step was to get the word out about the memorial. Once a few organizers posted on social media, the word spread pretty fast.
“We had not even had it up for three minutes, literally. A veteran pulled up, and I would assume that he was a Vietnam veteran. It appeared as if he had a prosthetic leg, and he walked up and asked if he could have a moment. So, we stepped away and he saluted it, took a moment of silence, saluted it again and then he left,” Pratt said.
The organizers of this memorial wanted it to be about Knauss and the community coming out to show support of the family.
“I want this to be a community project, and I wanted it to be something that we’re all involved with doing,” Pratt said.
It wasn’t to much surprise that with the memorial being up, dozens of people already paid their respects at the site.
“He’s military, I’m military. I taught him when he was five years old,” John Nance, a Gibbs community member, said as he was at the memorial. “It’s just very touching that this young man that I taught was in the military doing something fantastic for our nation, for people; and knowing that he was a saved individual. So, when this tragic thing happened, I know where he’s going,”
People who knew Knauss, like Nance, and people who didn’t know him, such as Sandra Grubbs, wanted to thank Knauss and his family for his service and sacrifice.
“I lost a close family member in Vietnam. It just breaks my heart,” Grubbs said.
Grubbs even had a necklace made for Knauss’ mom and wife.
“I hope it’s something special to them. Just a tribute to know that I’m thinking about them,” Grubbs said.
The show of thanks and support didn’t stop in the Gibbs community. It reached all across the country, including in Ohio, where an artist decided to draw every single service member who lost their life that day in Kabul.
Ron Moore Jr., who has Parkinson’s Disease, said it took him about six hours to draw each portrait. He would research the service member in hopes to catch their likeness in the drawing, and then cried every time he first tried to draw the portraits of each fallen soldier.
“No matter how challenging Parkinson’s is, it’s not nearly as challenging as your son not coming home,” Moore said.
Moore plans to send the portraits to each family of the fallen soldiers. He also plans to raise money for the families by selling a hand-drawn photo in remembrance of Sept. 11.
The memorial in Gibbs will be displayed for about two weeks. Pratt said they wanted it to still be standing on Sept. 11.
He said once it’s taken down, letters written to the family and the banner itself (which people wrote notes on as well) will be given to Knauss’ family.
Pratt and community members said it’s the least they can do after Knauss and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us.
“We would hope that the letters, the cards of encouragement would be a blessing of this family to let them know how this community feels. How this city feels,” Pratt said.