By Dorothy Copus Brush
Last week, a letter to the editor was headlined “Answers found on Milo Lemert.” The letter, written by Donna King, a newcomer to Cumberland County, was a native of Savannah, TN in Hardin County.
She remembers crossing the Milo Lemert Bridge in Savannah almost daily. Donna knew he was a WWI hero and assumed he was from Hardin County. When she moved to Crossville she learned the truth about Lemert.
Milo Lemert, killed in 1918, was awarded the Medal of Honor but for 69 years his modest grave in Crossville had no mention of his heroic action. I went to the bulging file I began in 1988 on Lemert. That was the year he was rescued to become an important part of Cumberland County history.
Mike Moser, editor of the Chronicle, tells the story in his column. In 1986 he attended Tennessee USA at the Playhouse and in one scene a placard appeared with the name Milo Lemert, Congressional Medal of Honor. Too bad we don’t know who found that almost lost bit of history. Because of it Mike began a search which ended at the modest gravesite. On Decoration Day in 1987, military services were held and an appropriate gravestone was installed.
1988 was the year I began writing for the Chronicle and I too got caught up in the Lemert story. During a cruise on the Mississippi River, we passed under the Milo Lemert Bridge. I wanted to know the story of this bridge and so began phone calls and letters to Savannah.
I received a story on the bridge from Savanna’s Courier newspaper dated August 21, 1980 with pictures showing the destruction of the long serving Milo Lemert Bridge.
In 1821 a ferrying operation carried travelers on the path that would become State Highway 15 and finally U.S. 64. A committee appointed by the Hardin County Court began working for a bridge in 1921. Finally in 1926 they got a promise from the governor that they would receive funding for the construction of the second largest, longest and costliest bridge outside Nashville, Chattanooga or Knoxville. Residents called it the Million Dollar Bridge on 15.
The Milo Lemert Bridge opened on September 13, 1930 after a three hour dedication ceremony, observed by an estimated 3,000 people. Speeches were given by the governor, a number of senators and other important officials. Few knew why homage was paid to Milo Lemert. Some knew he was some kind of a hero but to children he was a worker who fell into fresh concrete and was entombed in a pier.
From one of my correspondents in Savannah was an ad on Dec. 15, 1994 for a Hardin County afghan. One of the pictures appearing on the blanket is the Milo Lemert Bridge.
Since 1988 Crossville has remembered their WWI hero in many ways. I will always remember the words he wrote to his mother shortly before his death. “As for me I can shut my eyes and dream such sweet dreams of Tennessee that I’m sure I’ll have to be chained in heaven if I do get bumped off in No Man’s Land.”
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Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.