KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Master Sergeant Leroy Petry, a retired veteran, was standing in front of a forested area that overlooks the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery when he began sharing some of his stories on the battlefield.
Petry received the nation's highest award for valor in combat in 2011 from President Barack Obama for his service in Afghanistan in 2008.
During one of the battles, they were after a "high value" target when Petry and his team got pinned down behind a small building. When they suddenly saw a foreign grenade on the ground, it was too late. This was the moment when Petry picked it up and threw it forward as it exploded in his hand.
"I looked down, my pants are soaked in blood all the way to the boots," Petry said. "Mentally, I wanted to stay in the fight, even if I used my last breath to give a radio call that would help my guys. That's what I wanted to do. But physically, I knew I was running out of blood."
Today, Petry was part of the project which he hopes will bring the community together and provide the chance for veterans to tell their stories.
The Legacy Parks Foundation announced today it has gathered the funds and is ready to begin building the French Broad Veterans Memorial Park where families can gather to honor East Tennessee veterans.
Knox County kickstarted the funding by donating $250,000. The state also provided half a million dollars in funding. The Legacy Parks Foundation said it now exceeded its goal and raised $1.3 million for the project.
"The most challenging for us is fundraising and honestly, it didn't turn out to be that difficult challenge because everyone wants to be able to show their support of our veterans," Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation, said.
Regardless of how much they've gathered, Evans said she hopes people will continue to help as they are only in the initial phase. During her speech, she said this project "started for veterans and it's turning out to be a gift from veterans."
Up until now, she said the people involved in the design and construction are veterans. The plans for the park show a natural setting with some areas landscaped for private gatherings. Evans said the lawn will fit about 250 people for events.
Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who was one of the speakers for the event, said this project shows how much the community values veterans. Especially during a week when the Medal of Honor Society convention is in town.
"That just is so humbling, and we are so honored to have [Petry] and his fellow Medal of Honor recipients in town for another time," Jacobs said. "That's just who we are in East Tennessee. We value our veterans very much here."
The land for this project was donated by Bluewater Industries to Legacy Parks Foundation in 2019. Evans said they are estimating to begin construction at the beginning of next year and complete it by the end of 2023.
The flag will stay up the whole time until the project is complete. It will also serve as a reminder of how veterans may receive awards in public, but they give their biggest battles when no one is watching.
"Really take a hard look at what you're blessed with every day," Petry said. "When I wake up in the morning, I open my eyes and I breathe air in my lungs. I know I'm blessed with another opportunity to make a difference in other people's lives as well my own."