The majestic bald eagle, one of the symbols of our nation, was once an endangered species. The birds have made a remarkable comeback since the 1960s thanks in part to groups like the American Eagle Foundation based in Sevierville.
As a fitting tribute on this Fourth of July, the foundation released two young eagles.
"They were hatched by captive parents who were disabled, can no longer survive in the wild, but they get to lay eggs and hatch young every year and all of our young get to fly free," said Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation.
The daughters of two fallen heroes had the honor of naming one bird. "Talon" was the name chosen by Kaylee Henry in honor of her father Air Force Sergeant James R. Henry and by Katie Connor in honor of her father Sergeant Major Bradley Connor.
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Heath Calhoun named the other bird "Battleforce" in honor of his unit in the 101st Airborne. He lost his legs in an attack in Iraq. That didn't stop him from climbing the tower to see the birds before their release.
"It's a really special feeling for these guys to honor wounded veterans and also your fathers and it's just a really special thing," he said.
After a prayer and ceremony, it was time to soar.
The pair wasted no time testing their wings. Talon headed for the lake making a soft landing on the water, then swimming to shore. Battleforce decided to observe from a tall tree.
For everyone there, it was an honor just to watch them fly. Katie Connor says her dad would have loved to see them.
"He's from Idaho so when he was a kid and when we would go visit his family even when I was a kid we would go eagle watching and he absolutely loved eagles. So just being here he would be so intense and have so much fun with it so, it's an honor that I get to be here for it," she said.
Over the past 30 years,the American Eagle Foundation has released about 350 eagles across Tennessee helping to restore the symbol of freedom to our skies.