CARYVILLE, TN (WLAF) – Hugh Don Hatmaker graduated from Jacksboro High School in 1954 and was in the US Army the very next day, and he’s been in uniform ever since.
“He is the longest serving active honor guard member in the Campbell County Honor Guard and has been wearing a uniform since May 26, 1954,” said Campbell County Veteran’s Affairs Director Kevin Walden – United States Air Force retired. In 2021, Hatmaker marks his 30th year with the CCHG.
The man who was born and raised in Demory says he’d always wanted to be in the military long before he signed up his senior year at JHS. Hatmaker’s career includes tours in Vietnam (two), a stint with the Saudi Air Force, four years in England and even close to home at the now closed Lake City Air Force Station. South Carolina, Germany, Colorado and California were also stops.
Hatmaker enlisted in the U.S. Army, served three years while earning the rank of staff sergeant, and then left the Army for the U.S. Air Force where he spent the next 22-years. It was in the Air Force where his career took a turn that changed his career. He started flying.
The one time the Air Force Master Sergeant’s request for a stop was granted, he was sent to Stewart Air Force Base at Smyrna, Tennessee. “That’s where I started flying. I was a load master on the C-130 and was responsible for the weight and balance of the airplane, We hauled troops and bombs,” said Hatmaker. He logged more than 5,000 hours in the air.
“We flew all over Europe while I was in England,” added Hatmaker. Perhaps his most memorable flying came over a 90-day stretch when Hatmaker had a second tour in Vietnam. This came in 1968 during the historic Tet Offensive.
Aside from the service, the uniform and the many tours of duty, there’s been one other constant in Hatmaker’s life; his high school sweetheart, Jean Edmond. “I went to La Follette High School for two years and then two years at Jacksboro. I met Jean at LHS, and we started dating while I was at JHS,” said Hatmaker. Come December the couple will celebrate their 65th anniversary.
Hatmaker’s final assignment was at Dyess Air Force Base at Abilene, Texas. “I retired from there. In fact, that’s where our daughter Sherry graduated from high school,” he said.
After retiring from the Air Force in the 1970s, Hatmaker was recruited by the Lockheed Martin Corporation as an instructor on the C-130 which is still being built today. The C-130, at least at one time, was the only plane that could back up according to Hatmaker. “It has short field take off and landing capabilities; a four-engine turbo prop in Hatmaker’s time with the C-130 with more props on the newer units,” said Hatmaker.
For a while, Hatmaker was with Lockheed in Saudi Arabia. Over a four-year span, he was with the Saudi Air Force.
His last retirement came in January 1999. That final leg of his impressive career was with the Bechtel Corporation at Oak Ridge. Come July 22, he’ll mark another milestone; his 85th birthday.
This Friday, Hatmaker and his fellow honor guard members host WBIR and Buddy’s Barbecue at Hatmaker’s Paradise Cove home. The Buddy’s Backyard Barbecue will be televised at 4pm, 5pm and 6pm on Channel 10.
Since that spring day in 1954, Hatmaker has been in uniform and was asked, when the day comes, will he be buried in uniform? “As far as I’m concerned, I will be,” said Hatmaker. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 07/04/2021-6AM-PHOTOS COURTESY OF WLAF’S CHARLIE HUTSON)