Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Another chance to remember

July 6, 2012 

This is not about Aaron Cohn, the World War II hero and legendary juvenile court judge who died on the Fourth of July, at the age of 96.

It could be.

Cohn deserves every story he's received. He's defended our freedom, brightened our community and shaped the lives of countless children who had no hope and no chance.

But this is about another veteran, somebody you've never heard of.

His name was Owen Perry. He grew up on a farm in Tennessee, missed a chance to be a football star, became a cook in the Navy, and worked most of his life in a tire factory.

After his wife, Hazel, died, Uncle Owen spent holidays with my wife's family in Tennessee. He wasn't their blood relative, which means they spent time with him because they wanted to.

Every July Fourth, he'd be waiting for me on the screen-porch swing.

He had stories to tell, but he wasn't in a hurry. He'd warm up with some obscure trivia about college football, and he'd always make fun of Vanderbilt.

When he was a young man, Uncle Owen received a scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee. His freshmen year, he blew out his knee and was summoned to the office of General Neyland, the Volunteers' famous coach.

"Son," Neyland began, "when you're on the farm and a horse breaks its leg, what do you do?"

"You take away his scholarship and send him home?" Owen said.

"You're a sharp young man," General Neyland said, and handed him a train ticket back to West Tennessee.

During World War II, Owen served in the Navy. Once, with his ship docked in a particularly exotic locale, he awoke early for breakfast duty and noticed that every other cook was either AWOL or out of commission.

So Owen headed for the galley, figuring he'd build character or at least have a good story to tell. He cooked breakfast for hundreds of men by himself, which required some short cuts, like boiling all the sausages in a giant pot.

I remember the week before Uncle Owen died. An ice storm hit Memphis and I was driving him somewhere in his Mercury Grand Marquis, and he played a tape of Guy Lombardo singing "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."

That was a long time ago. Every Fourth of July since then, I look at that empty swing. I looked at it Thursday morning when I heard that Judge Cohn died.

We lose thousands of World War II veterans every week. Sometimes they grab headlines, but usually they just slip off quietly into the great beyond.

For each one of them, there's at least somebody who'll never forget what they did, and how they did it.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.

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