Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- “Tribute to Franklin Namon Watson and Lowell Russell”

Posted on April 18, 2012

“Tribute to Franklin Namon Watson and Lowell Russell”

Madam President, my late friend Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," lived his life by these six words: "Find the good and praise it."

Occasionally, I come to the floor and cite an example of a Tennessean or some circumstances in my State that fit those six words.

A few weeks ago, I came here to talk about a 91-year-old Tennessean, Bill Hoffman, a resident of Memphis, who turned down a Purple Heart in 1944 when he was wounded in Germany because there were so many other people who were hurt worse than he was. His son thought, since his father is now 91, that maybe it is time that he does get it, and he contacted our office, and we got in touch with the Army. Lo and behold, he not only deserves the Purple Heart, he turns out to be one of the last three surviving rangers who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on D-day, which was one of the most daring and courageous acts of World War II. President Reagan talked about it in his 40th anniversary speech, "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc."

Last week in Memphis, the Army presented Bill Hoffman not only with his Purple Heart but with the Bronze Star and a "V" for valor, and they gave him a special ranger cap to go along with it. That was a good day.

I am here today to talk about another story, two extraordinary Tennesseans who are united by both their friendship and their courage -- LCpl Franklin Namon Watson, who sacrificed his life for our freedom, and his devoted friend and mentor, Tennessee Highway Patrol Sergeant Lowell Russell, who is recovering from critical injuries he sustained while on duty.

LCpl Franklin Namon Watson, or "Frankie" to everyone who knew him in East Tennessee, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 2010. Last year, in September, at the age of 21, Frankie was killed while serving our country in Afghanistan, sweeping for improvised explosive devices in the Helmand Province.

Frankie, the son of Stacy Couch and Troy Watson, didn't shy away from difficult or dangerous work when he was back in Tennessee. He was a law enforcement officer in the police department of Madisonville in East Tennessee, just a few miles down the road from my hometown. The chief deputy of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, Brian Graves, described Frankie as "very upbeat and focused on what he wanted to do." What he wanted to do was be a peacekeeper and a law enforcer. Family members say his dream was to join the Secret Service and protect the President.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter to the editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel written by a prominent Knoxville attorney, Billy Stokes. He wrote about the escort of Frankie's body, delivered by a small airplane to the National Guard base and transported by a six-person military detail to a hearse, which then traveled from the airport to Madisonville in East Tennessee. Billy was one of the several hundred motorcyclists who road behind the police cars. This is what he said:

All along the route were thousands of well-wishers, many holding American flags. Lots of them were veterans, proudly holding crisp salutes as the processional passed. A significant number of those folks were crying. As we got closer to Madisonville, many young men and women were obviously grief stricken. I suppose they were school friends of Watson's.

I saw thousands of East Tennesseans trying to honor and respect a young man who has given his all for this country. Watson was a wonderful young man by all accounts from those who knew him best.

I am an Army veteran but did not experience the horrors of combat. I do know that we have an all-volunteer force protecting our liberty and freedoms every day. I am so glad that we don't seem to take them for granted. I've never been prouder to be an American and an East Tennessean than I was that day.

Another law enforcement officer, Tennessee Highway Patrol Sergeant Lowell Russell, helped raise Frankie and was a devoted friend and mentor. Not long ago, Lowell talked with a member of my staff in Knoxville, Jane Chedester, and told her about Frankie. He said that Frankie's love of serving the Madisonville Police Department was great. He told her about Frankie's dedication to honoring his State and his country.

Then, in March, Sergeant Russell was critically injured in a collision on Interstate 40 in West Knoxville when a tractor trailer hit his squad car as he sat on the shoulder finishing up some paperwork after a traffic stop. Earlier this month Lowell was discharged from the University of Tennessee Medical Center to continue his recovery in a rehabilitation facility.

Lowell is beloved by his community. A Facebook page dedicated to "Prayers for Sergeant Lowell Russell" is filled with loving prayers for Lowell. They call him "a wonderful man." They talk about his "huge heart." One says that "Lowell has done so much for everyone else."

Numerous efforts are being made to raise money to help Russell and his family with expenses.

Tennessee's General Assembly passed a resolution to honor Lowell, noting his "immeasurable contributions to his community as a Tennessee Highway Patrolman...who exhibits superior standards of professional conduct and ethics." It also says that "Sergeant Russell is wholly committed to noble precepts of public service that have earned Tennessee recognition as the 'Volunteer State,' and he should be specially recognized for his courage and gallantry as an esteemed member of the local law enforcement."

I add my great appreciation for Lowell to that expressed by our Governor and our general assembly. Honey and I pray for his strength in recovery and for strength for his family and friends during this very difficult time.

So Frankie Watson and Lowell Russell, we are proud of you. Find the good and praise it.