BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Tennesseans have much for which to be proud, including three former presidents who each had an impact on the nation in significant ways.
On Saturday, the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment, Tennessee National Guard, hosted the annual presidential wreath-laying to honor the 204th birthday of President Andrew Johnson.
As is customary, the regiment represented the President of the United States in placing a wreath at the grave of the deceased president on the anniversary of his birth in 1808.
Similar ceremonies on behalf of the incumbent president, whoever that may be, take place each year at the gravesites of all former U.S. Presidents.
President Johnson is buried at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, located on Monument Avenue, in Greeneville.
While freezing temperatures and a whipping wind kept the crowd small and the ceremony brief, the enthusiasm and sincerity of the participants were as strong as ever.
Major General Max Haston, the adjutant general of the State of Tennessee and the guest speaker at the ceremony, emphasized the message that Johnson is among the three shining stars who are the presidents from Tennessee.
Haston praised Johnson for his spirit, dedication and willingness to volunteer his life for his country
The major noted the many roles that Johnson held in his lifetime, from alderman to mayor, governor to senator, and, finally, vice president to president.
Because of these many roles Johnson fulfilled for his country, Haston deemed him "the ultimate volunteer."
"Honest conviction is my courage; the Constitution is my guide," Haston said, quoting a famous statement made by Johnson. "Our country is what it is today because of these men -- men like Andrew Johnson."
Johnson was born on Dec. 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N.C. He moved to Greeneville at a young age and remains an integral part of the history and culture of the local community.
He took on the role of vice president to President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. The very next year, he took the reins of the nation as president following Lincoln's assassination.
"All three of [Tennessee's] presidents had a large impact on this country," Haston said in an interview following the ceremony.
With Johnson, Haston noted, "All people want to talk about is that he was impeached."
This is an unfair characterization, the major argued, saying that the impeachment was the result of politics resulting from Johnson's firing of a cabinet member.
A member of Gov. Bill Haslam's cabinet, Haston said he would expect no less than to be fired if he did not fulfill his duties and meet Haslam's expectations.
"The things [Johnson] did for this country [were] amazing," Haston added. "I know it's a cold day up here, but it's a privilege to do this."
Jim Small, chief of operations for the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, noted that the weather is always a challenge for the ceremony, and he especially praised the Greene County Honor Guard for their participation in the event.
Additionally, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and Chaplain Eddie Young gave the benediction while the Tennessee Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Unit was present to fire three volleys of shots in honor of the 17th president.
Haston and Small were joined by Major Brad Bowling and Capt. Gary Price in offering a solemn salute and a quiet show of respect for the former president now at rest.