A 102-year-old veteran of World War II says a very sentimental American flag was recently stolen from his home in Greene County.
At the age of 102, Charles Kayhart of Greeneville is still a vibrant and colorful character with a green thumb.
"I spend as much time outdoors as I possibly can. I mow my lawn with a push-mower. It's excellent exercise. One of my hobbies is my garden. I have some roses on the right and a lot of geraniums," said Kayhart. "I'll be 103 on October 14 of this year. I don't have any real secret to long life, but I've never been a drinker. I've been drunk twice in my life. The first time I said I would never do that again. The second time I meant it."
While Kayhart is as full of life as ever, the national colors he proudly flew outside his home had faded and lost their red glare.
"My neighbor, she works for the state and pointed out my [American] flag had seen its last days. I hang it at the end of my walkway outside and it was really weather-worn and faded. She went to the governor and got me a new flag," said Kayhart. "Governor [Haslam] flew the flag one day over the State Capitol in Nashville and then gave it to me. It was hand sewn and beautiful material. The colors were brilliant. It was the best flag I ever had. I was highly honored to get that flag. I got it just a few weeks ago."
If anyone deserved a bright new banner of freedom, it is Kayhart. He is an expert radio engineer and served in that capacity during World War II in the U.S. Army. During the war, Kayhart personally laid eyes on one of the most iconic American flags ever raised.
"That is the flag waving on Iwo Jima. I will never forget that," said Kayhart as he pointed to a small statue on his mantel of the flag-raising. "I remember the General called me in. He showed me a map on the wall. He said, 'That is Iwo Jima. We're going to take that island. You are going to build the administrative radio station for Iwo Jima.'"
When Kayhart arrived at Iwo Jima, the scene from his ship was a ferocious battle that lit up the sky.
"We pulled up along the island at night. Dust was flying everywhere, flares were going off, bombs were dropping, and there was constant gunfire. I had 12 men I selected to go on the mission and we all looked at each other and wondered if we were really going to go into that island the next morning. Well, we did. We got on landing craft and finally made our way to the shore at the base of the mountain and went to work."
At the top of the mountain flew the iconic flag raised by U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima.
"We got there a couple of days after the flag was raised. You could clearly see it. It was great to see it there, but it was hard to feel great about anything with so many dead American bodies everywhere. That was really hard to take. The images of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, that is very dear to me to see the picture of those flags."
Kayhart personally witnessed the brutality of war and the human sacrifice made for the stars and stripes. The flag holds special meaning to Kayhart. The proud veteran took especially great care of his new flag.
"The new flag, I took it in every night. When I last took it down, it began to rain and I took it down right away. I put it in my garage and laid it across the trunk of my car," said Kayhart. "I left the garage door open to get some fresh air in and let it cool off. The next morning I woke up and went to put the flag out. My wonderful flag was gone."
Kayhart said he has no idea who stole the flag, but does not think the motive could have been monetary.
"It is not like you can sell the flag very easily. My guess is someone just really wanted an American flag." Kayhart added, "It broke my heart, really. That flag meant an awful lot to me."
Now this proud veteran with expertise in powerful communication transmission want to send a clear message to whoever took his flag.
"The person who stole it, I wish them good luck. It was a very wrong thing to do. And I hope that God will forgive you for doing it," said Kayhart.
Kayhart did not call the police or report the stolen item. However, word of the theft made it to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs. Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder has already shipped a replacement flag to Kayhart that should arrive sometime later this week.
Kayhart said he plans to put his green thumb to work in order to properly display the new banner of red, white, and blue.
"I've got to get rid of that bush just beneath where the pole is mounted so the flag has plenty of room," said Kayhart. "My country, the country I love very highly, that is what the flag represents. My country and all of the wonderful people in it. And I'm going to look at that flag and be very happy."