Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Sometimes, there are no words, actions, celebrations large enough to do justice to those who deserve it. Sometimes, the life that someone lives is so big, that no amount of honors or recognitions even begin to stack up to appropriate levels to truly do them justice.
There is no better example of a man, or no individual more deserving of such a definition than Vietnam Veteran and Macon County native Nathan (Nat) Henry. Nat dedicated his life to his country and his love to his community and lived a life that kept both as priorities until he passed away on Jan. 11, 2016.
After giving so much of himself to the community and to his country, his friends, neighbors, and fellow veterans have committed themselves to Nat. Years ago, Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale set out to have a bridge in Macon County named in Nat’s honor. Four years ago, on Oct. 18, 2012, the bridge on the Georgia Road was deemed the Nathan B. Henry Bridge. Nat, joined by veterans from across the country and his friends and family, helped unveil the sign designating the bridge.
“It is hard to stand here today and put into words the love, and respect I have for Macon County,” Henry said during the bridge dedication ceremony in 2012. “When I came back to Western North Carolina I always said this is God’s country.”
After the bridge was first dedicated, Beale and other leaders began working to add a sign signifying Nat’s time as a Prisoner of War during Vietnam War. Beale petitioned to the North Carolina Department of Transportation and even made several trips to Washington D.C. to work with Congressman Mark Meadows to get the addition added to the bridge sign.
“Thousands of people pass this bridge every day and while they may see it is named for Nat, they may not know why,” said Beale. “Now, with adding the years he served as a POW, now they will have a little better insight into the service and sacrifice Nat made to his country.”
Nat, who was the sole survivor from his platoon in a battle on July 12, 1967, was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. He was held captive for almost six years before being released and returning to Macon County.
Nat has been recognized for his outstanding service and valor to the United States of America by being awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts with Oak Leaf Clusters and numerous other medals.
After returning home, Nat continued to promote veterans and other humanitarian efforts. He was an original member of the Burningtown Fire Department and helped secure land for the construction of the current department. He also served as a charter member of the Macon County Vietnam Veterans Chapter 994 and served two terms as president and chairman of the board of directors.
“So many times we wait too long and we end up doing in memory of,”said Beale. “Well this was not a memorial, but this was done to recognize a Maconian that we all deem as our hero in Macon County, who not only was a Vietnam veteran, but was, and always will be a symbol for the fight of all Vietnam veterans who are out here today and that it took 40 long years to recognize. Nat got to be here and see this bridge be named for him, and even though he didn’t want it because to him, his service and dedication was an honor in itself, and not something needing recognition, we were proud to celebrate this with him four years ago. And although he can’t be here to see this completed, I know he is smiling down on us and telling us to stop making such a big fuss about him.”