Upland Chronicles: Melvin Carr sustained by his strong faith

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 11:46 PM

In 1969, a double tragedy hit the Jones Chapel community and especially the pastor of Jones Chapel Baptist Church, Rev. Melvin Carr and his family. After having received word on Saturday evening, July 5, that their only son, Dannie, had been killed in action in the Vietnam War, lightning struck their church on Sunday night, July 6, burning it to the ground.

While dealing with the loss of his only son, Rev. Carr ably led his flock as they held services in New Center School while a new building was under construction. On Dec. 1, 1969, the determined congregation held its first service in the new, 300-seat church.

Melvin David Carr has lived in Sevier County most of his life. He was born on March 7, 1925, in Virginia. His father, Lee Carr, was a patient at Mountain Home VA Medical Center, where he was being treated for tuberculosis. His mother, Pearl, temporarily moved with her three older children to the home of her parents, Joshua and Elizabeth Reagan, who were residing at that time in Virginia.

The family moved back to the Sugarlands while Melvin was an infant, and they lived there until he was 7. When the national park was established, they bought a farm in the King Hollow, near Pittman Center, and moved there. Melvin was only 8 when his father died at age 37 the following year. He attended Laurel School and Pittman Center School.

Carr dropped out of Pi Beta Phi High School to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps as an assistant to the physician assigned to the Sugarlands, Tremont and Cades Cove companies.

At age 17, Carr volunteered for the Naval Air Force. He served on the battleship USS Pennsylvania, which was the command ship for the seventh fleet of the Pacific campaign during much of World War II. His brother, Jess, also served in the war; their father was a soldier in World War l.

Despite serving in every battle in the Pacific except Iwo Jima, the fleet of the USS Pennsylvania didn’t suffer a hit from the moment it was repaired after the attack on Pearl Harbor, until the final day of the war in the Pacific. Carr oversaw the operation of an aircraft battery on the battleship.

After the war, he returned to Sevier County and married Eunice Watson, daughter of Arthur Watson and Mary Lillie Smelcer Watson. The couple had three children: Dannie, Ruth and Mary Ann. Carr worked for a few years as a security guard in Oak Ridge, but quit the job and returned to Sevier County because the position required that he work on Sundays, which went against his religious convictions. He turned down a job offer with the national park service for the same reason. That led him into the commercial construction trade, in which he worked as a carpenter for many years.

He was ordained a Baptist minister on Oct. 17, 1953, at Laurel Branch Baptist Church. Since that time, Reverend Carr has served as pastor of 10 Baptist churches: Laurel Branch, New Salem, Bethel, Jones Chapel, Richardson’s Cove, Roaring Fork, Zion Grove, Shady Grove and Shiloh in Sevier County; and Cave Hill in Newport.

Rev. Collie O ‘Shields, Rev. Melvin Watson, and Rev. O.C. Craig signed as witnesses of Carr’s ordination. The four dedicated ministers met frequently for several years afterwards studying the scriptures.

Throughout six decades Reverend Carr has managed to work full-time, attend to church duties, look after his family, and still find time to enjoy his favorite pastimes such as trout fishing, mountain grouse hunting, and hiking. In fact, he hiked the entire 71 miles of the Appalachian Trial that that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park carrying a forty-pound backpack when he was 55 years old, with a young couple from his church.

As a member and president of the Sevier County Sportsmen Club, Rev. Carr and Winston McCarter have facilitated numerous fish fries using both fish he caught and fish from their hatchery. Many of the popular fish fries were held as fund raisers for projects such as Camp Smoky.

Rev. Carr has officiated at an enormous number of funerals. Despite his personal tragedies, he possesses an innate ability to comfort other families in their time of grief.

While other pastors and laymen served in administrative capacities, Rev.Carr volunteered his time and carpenter skills to help build the new buildings at Smoky Mountain Academy property, when Camp Smoky was established there by the Sevier County Association of Baptists in 1964. For the first few years, his wife Eunice volunteered as a cook for the campers as well.

The tragic news of the death of their son Dannie Arthur Carr was delivered late Saturday night, July 5, 1969. Specialist Carr, 22, had been serving in the U.S. Army for 13 months, and had served in Vietnam for eight months with the First Air Cavalry. Specialist Carr had been wounded three times previously. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action on Jan. 18, 1969, and a second Purple Heart (First Oak Cluster) for wounds received in action on March 11 of that year.

The third time he was wounded, he was blown from a tank in May. He was released from the hospital at Cam Ranh Bay on June 21 to return to his company. He was killed 13 days later.

According to his daughter Ruth Miller, Reverend Carr, 89, has curtailed his activities due to his age and failing health. “Undoubtedly, he would say his proudest attainment is the souls who have been saved during his ministry,” she said. “His unshakable faith has sustained him throughout every adversity of his life.”

Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or cmcmahan@scoc.org.