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The bridge

David Epps's picture

I recently saw that a former high school classmate had a bridge named after him. I don’t recall if I met Joe Meade in junior high school or high school but I do remember that we played football together at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tenn.

Joe was a year older than me and was as tough as nails. He was ruddy in complexion, had blonde hair that was combed down in a kind of bowl cut, and was very muscular, although not very tall. He also had a distinguishing feature, a silver front tooth that made him look even tougher when he donned his football helmet.

Joe was always friendly with an easy-going smile, except on the football field. There he was all business. Once, in the locker room following practice, one the of “star players” who perhaps thought himself to be the toughest guy on the team, decided to push Joe around.

After vainly warning the other player to cut it out, Joe erupted in a flurry of fists and, although the encounter was over in mere seconds, having been broken up by the other players before the coach arrived on the scene, no one pushed Joe around again.

Those who knew Joe best said that he always wanted to be a United States Marine so, after graduation from high school, he enlisted. After graduation from boot camp, Joe received additional training and earned the Military Occupational Specialty of 0311. Joe was a rifleman, a grunt, an infantryman. A war was going on in Southeast Asia and Joe served with Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines, 1st Marine Division in Vietnam.

He arrived in country on Dec. 3, 1968. It was just over a month later, on Jan. 25, 1969, when PFC Joseph L. Meade was at Rock Crusher outside Da Nang in Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. Joe’s group came under fire and a number were wounded.

Someone told me that Joe carried one wounded Marine after another to a waiting helicopter. Joe was carrying another wounded Leatherneck to safety when he stepped on a line mine.

Joe’s commanding officer, Duane Crawford, said, “With total disregard for his own life, he continually exposed himself to danger by administering first aid to his wounded comrades, offering them comforting words and helping them to medevac helicopters. His courageous actions saved many lives.”

He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously. The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy. Joe Meade was 19 years old when he was killed on that January day.

Duane Crawford established a scholarship earlier this year in Joe’s name at Crawford’s old school, Putnam County High School in Unionville, MO. Brandon Thomas, a football quarterback and all-state basketball guard, was the first recipient of the PFC Joseph L. Meade Scholarship awarded to a senior boy who exemplified the highest athletic and academic standards.

Several weeks ago, back in my home county, the PFC Joseph L. Meade Bridge was dedicated. Over 40 years after Joe died in Vietnam, there were those who still remembered. Someday you may drive over that bridge in eastern Tennessee and wonder who Joe Meade was. He was a 19-year-old Marine who laid down his life trying to bring wounded fellow Marines to safety. He was a hero.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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