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Service & Sacrifice: A soldier’s legacy

A new scholarship bears the name of a native son from East Tennessee who was the last soldier killed in America’s longest war.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army lost one final soldier in its longest war.  East Tennessee lost a native son. Paula Knauss lost her boy, Ryan, in a terrorist bombing in Afghanistan.  

SSG Ryan Knauss was killed during the final days of America's 20-year war in that country, at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26, 2021.  He volunteered for the mission to help refugees escape before the Taliban takeover.

"I can tell you that if Ryan had to choose again, whether he would go back or not, I am sure he would go back. Even knowing the consequences, because what he did made a difference. And may we all choose to make a difference in this lifetime," said Paula Knauss.

She reflected on her 23-year-old soldier son inside the library of his alma mater, Gibbs High School. Ryan was a member of JROTC at Gibbs and joined the Army even before he graduated.  

To ensure his legacy of service lives on, his mom helped establish the nonprofit Respect and Remember Foundation.  Among the work of the charity is to ensure other JROTC cadets joining the military receive financial and emotional support. 

"I’m motivated because I know that I need to give back to all the people who have given so much to us in this community,” said Paula.

Credit: Paula Knauss
JROTC Cadet Cody Fee and his classmates from Gibbs High school join the mother of Ryan Knauss in a tribute hike to her son on House Mountain.

“My goal is not to be exactly like him, but to pick up where he left off and keep pushing forward and carry that torch on for other people as well," said Cody Fee, a JROTC Cadet.

He is receiving a new scholarship in Ryan's name, and has committed to serving eight years in the military after graduating high school.

“I want to hear about him, all of his years, and I want to spend a great deal of time knowing his family because the connection is forever now," said Paula.

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