Why the Medal of Honor Celebration is returning to Knoxville

“They could go anywhere in the country but they wanted to come here.”
“They could go anywhere in the country but they wanted to come here.”
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 9:02 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - This September, the 2022 Medal of Honor Celebration comes to Knoxville, Tennessee. The Celebration is an annual event, with a different location selected each year by the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. It serves as a reunion to remember and celebrate the sacrifices of American men and woman in defense of the United States.

This year will mark the second time that this extraordinary group of men will walk the streets of East Tennessee.

In 2014, the Medal of Honor Society selected Knoxville for the first time. The man who championed the Marble City as a host for the Medal of Honor Celebration, Joe Thompson, fell into the role almost by happenstance.

“My firm had brought a Medal of Honor was recipient here to do a corporate event.” Said Thompson, a Knoxville Native who served as the co-char of the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention, and is the Chairman of the 2022 Committee.

“Jack Jacobs was the recipient and it was in April, The dogwoods were blooming, it was like 65 degrees and he’s from New York. He was like, God, this is beautiful.”

Colonel Jacobs fell in love with East Tennessee and the natural beauty that comes with it, prompting him to tell Thompson that he’d like to bring all of the living recipients here.

Thompson laughed, “I said that is the dumbest idea I think I’ve ever heard.”

That idea, however farfetched it seemed, would soon be introduced to two other East Tennesseans by the Colonel himself. The newly elected Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam, and the then Mayor of Knox County and current U.S. Congressman Tim Burchett.

“Tim told me, I don’t know what Colonel Jacobs was talking about, but you’re gonna bring it (the celebration) here to Knoxville, and just let me know what you need.”

What followed was a trip to New York City to pitch Knoxville as a host site. Beating out other cities like Indianapolis, Knoxville was selected. Thompson was shocked to hear the news after giving what he thought was a lackluster performance in his pitch.

“I walked out thinking I just bombed” said Thompson. “They call me and tell me we were selected and I was kind of speechless. They said they had made up their minds long before I ever came to New York.”

The 2014 convention went off without a hitch. The recipients gathered for a week of brotherhood, remembrance, and celebration. Thompson, as well as the entire region, delivered on the promises made to the Medal of Honor Committee.

Thompson figured that would be the first and last time that he, let alone Knoxville, would be selected as a host city.

“I never thought they were ever coming back and I was perfectly fine with that.” Said Thompson. A few years ago they had kind of reached out to us and said, hey, you know, we’d like to come back to Knoxville.”

This time, Thompson flew to Dallas to give another pitch for the convention to come back to East Tennessee. But before that pitch could be delivered, but just like in 2014, the decision was already made.

“They started clapping when I got there, and one of the recipients said ‘we just voted.’ So I said, well, I guess y’all are coming back.”

So back to the Scruffy City comes the men who went above and beyond the call of duty. Selecting Knoxville following the 2020 celebration in Dallas, and the 2021 celebration in Boston. Two cities that rank among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

“I think they love the people here. They always talk about the people in Knoxville and how that they’re more than just patriotic. We tell them the story about why we’re the Volunteer State and they love it here. They love the mountains. They love the schools and they loved everything about Knoxville. That’s why they wanted to come back.”

The 2022 Medal of Honor Celebration will be held September 6-10 in Knoxville, with both public and private events, where you can pay your respects to real American heroes. Men who have been to hell and back, but wanted to spend at least one more week surrounded by the people, and beauty that East Tennessee has to offer.

“They could go anywhere in the country but they wanted to come here.”

To learn more about the 2022 Medal of Honor Celebration, click here.

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