The following is the final in a series of Veterans Voices reports on the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City, Tennessee.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) — Before there was the Mountain Home National Cemetery, there was a United States congressman with a dream.
“Preston Brownlow, who was the first district Congressman, wanted to have a home, a national home in his district,” said Allen Jackson, veteran historian with the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council. “And it was basically told from Congress and from the national board that there is no new homes being built. If Tennessee wants a home, they need to build it themselves.”
Jackson said Congressman Brownlow soon won the needed support to open what was called The Mountain Home Branch of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteered Soldiers.
“There were actually a lot of the veterans that were disabled, and they didn’t have a place to go,” Jackson said. “They couldn’t actually take care of themselves because they couldn’t work, depending on if you’re missing an arm or leg or maybe blind it or whatever it may be. And they didn’t really have anyone else, especially in the bigger cities.”
The Mountain Home Branch opened in October 1903 as the ninth home to care for Union veterans of the Civil War, according to the Veteran’s administration. Dormitories opened on the campus along with a self-contained town with a farm, trade shops, a post office and even a zoo.
But within weeks of opening, a new need arose.
“One of the first things they established was a cemetery,” Jackson said. “The first death here was the on the 11th of December, 1903.”
Jackson says that in the early years of the cemetery, veteran graves were placed in a circle around an obelisk monument where Congressman Brownlow and his wife were buried.
African American soldiers soon were allowed to live in segregated housing at Mountain Home. Even their burial grounds were separate at first as segregation followed them even to their graves.
Over the following decades, multiple wars and military campaigns caused the cemetery to grow.
In 1973, the U.S. Veterans Administration assumed control and made Mountain Home a national cemetery.
Today, it holds more than 17,200 veteran graves.
Four Medal of Honor recipients are buried there.
Jackson said the cemetery is filled with incredible stories of brave Americans who served their country through a period of dramatic change.
“We owe basically what we have – the freedoms that we have – to these men and women who served,” he said.