A World War II veteran and his wife returned to their home to find someone had ransacked their home, taking several firearms and antique currency. Also missing was a box containing the veteran’s ribbons and other military honors earned in the European Theater.
Charles Eugene “Gene” Broughton of Lake Tansi, Tennessee, a small town outside of Crossville in Cumberland County, had served three years with the 2nd Ammunition Section, Service Battery of the 335th Field Artillery Battalion of the 87th Infantry Division. “Of everything we lost, my battle stars and dog tags are the things I missed most” Broughton said.
While Broughton had put the burglary behind him and accepted the loss of his valuables; little did he realize that he would soon get his legacy in return and it would come from a group of Girl Scouts from a city over 60 miles away. Girl Scout Troops 534 and 300 of Knoxville, Tennessee worked to save Gene Broughton’s legacy.
James Dee, an amateur historian in Knoxville, heard the story on the evening news. Mr. Dee is also a leader in his daughter’s Girl Scout troop and he was finishing a project with his scout troop, in which the girls had listened to a World War II WAVE tell about her service during the war. The girls presented her with the medals she earned during the war. The Navy veteran had her ribbons, but not the medals associated with the ribbons.
When one of the scouts heard Dee talking about the burglary, the girl asked if they couldn’t replace what he lost. Dee called Gene Broughton to learn more about what he lost in the burglary. “He told me what bothered him wasn’t that he had lost these things, but he had lost a legacy. He wanted to pass these things on to his daughters.” Dee said.
That is when Dee decided that the Girl Scouts would not be replacing what he lost, but give him his legacy instead. Dee has worked with a number of veterans, writing their biographies and conducting video-taped interviews to preserve their history. “Medals are the strongest bond that civilians have with veterans.” Dee noted. So the Girl Scouts set out to raise money to purchase Broughton’s medals and badges. In addition, Dee wrote a book describing Broughton’s service. The book included pictures and full descriptions of his medals and badges.
On the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, May 30, family, friends and neighbors gathered at the Lake Tansi’s Veterans Park to honor Broughton with a surprise ceremony. When his car drove-up, Broughton was happily surprised to see all four of his daughters, some came as far as England to be there, along with most of his 27 foster children and over 100 friends and neighbors. He was greeted by James Dee, his daughter Amanda, fellow Girl Scout Kaleigh Lain, Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill and Captain Steven Turner of the Tennessee Army National Guard.
“I’m totally surprised,” Broughton said. “To think that so many people came out for this.”
After the surprised veteran was brought to a front-row seat, he listened to James Dee tell him from behind the podium that everyone there had gathered to honor him. Dee told the audience that “although the people may not be physically here, the Tanasi Council of Girl Scouts, the citizens of Knox County, and the U.S. Army stand beside me and their representatives have joined me to give Gene what he richly deserves and to right an inexcusable wrong.”
Dee had determined what medals Broughton earned based on his discharge papers. The Girl Scouts raised money to purchase the medals from a commercial source. “Although the girls were ready to work really hard, they really didn’t have to,” Dee said. “Many people simply gave us money. They said they wanted to be a part of this. When the people of Knox County heard your story, they stepped forward and helped without asking.”
Captain Steve Turner with the Tennessee Army National Guard presented the medals on behalf of the Adjutant General of Tennessee. “It gives me great pleasure to be here today, honoring a veteran of World War II, and a member of the greatest generation this country has ever known,” Capt. Turner said.
“This veteran has earned the right to wear these medals and ribbons proudly. I would ask that those of you, who can stand, please do as we present these medals and fix a terrible wrong,”
Capt. Turner described what Broughton had done to earn his medals while Girl Scout Kaleigh Lain gave the medals to the veteran. Broughton was presented the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European Campaign Medal with three campaign stars and the World War II Victory Medal. He earned the Expert Marksman badge and he had the Honorable Service Lapel Pin, also known as the Ruptured Duck, pined on his shirt.
Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill along with Dee’s daughter Amanda presented Broughton the book. “On this Memorial Day weekend, I know there are a lot of folks that appreciate the fact you were successful, and were able to save countless lives because of your and other’s bravery,” Hill said. “Thank you very much for your service.”
Toward the end of the ceremony Gene Broughton took the microphone and addressed the crowd from his chair, all the while cradling five boxes, containing his military honors, under his arm. He told how he was glad it was the Girl Scouts that presented him his medals since he was made an honorary Girl Scout in the 1950’s after working extensively with his daughter’s Girl Scout troops. He had a lifetime of community service and has received numerous awards and recognition for his good works. However he said his “greatest service of all was to my country.”
“I thank and praise all of you for the support you have given, not to me, because I just represent a whole bunch of men and they all, I know, are really blessed by what’s gone on here today. I thank you all so much.”
On Friday, June 6, Gene Broughton passed away. The family received an electronic copy of the book James Dee had written, so it could be easily copied and given to family members. Electronic copies were distributed at his memorial service; all in hopes his legacy of service will live beyond his children’s lifetime, his grand children lifetimes, hopefully forever.