Legionnaire honored for Music City GP weekend kick-off
The most unique feature of the 11-turn, 2.17-mile Big Machine Music City Grand Prix street course is the Korean War Veterans Bridge. It is a 1,660-foot free-arch bridge that spans the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville, Tenn.
Every day, 17,000 travelers cross this bridge to the bustling business district of one of the country’s most exciting cities. The bridge was built in 2004 as a lasting memorial to veterans who fought in the Korean War.
James Markham of Mount Juliet, Tenn., Was one of those veterans.
On Friday morning, the 90-year-old American Legion member crossed the bridge in a race car driven by Dario Franchitti, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion.
Ahead of his lap, Markham spent 30 minutes talking to his favorite racing driver, Jimmie Johnson, who drives the # 48 American Legion Honda as a NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie after winning a record-breaking seven NASCAR Cup Series championships. .
“I am very honored to be a part of the opening ceremonies for this race,” said Markham. “Jimmie is my favorite rider, and it was really great. I’ve always loved seeing him at the top.
“Getting into this Pace Car was awesome. I crossed this bridge at 120 miles an hour. Think about those guys in the race cars crossing that bridge at 200 miles an hour. They will really move forward. This track has very tight turns on the course. It’s going to be quite a spectacle. “
Markham entered the Air Force in 1951 and was stationed at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan from August 1951 to January 1953 before returning to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Its duties were to support the movement of troops using a C-54 aircraft inside and outside Korea.
Markham has been a member of the American Legion for 66 years and has held several positions, including that of Department Commander from 1992 to 1993 and member of the Tennessee National Executive Committee from 2000 to 2002. He is a member of the American Legion Post 88 in Donelson, Tenn.
“I go there a few times a week for lunch and stuff, and I got up on Wednesday and announced that I was going to race and be honored as a Korean War veteran,” Markham said. . “I am honored. I appreciate everyone who values veterans. They are the ones to whom we owe our freedom.
While on active duty, Markham was fortunate enough to miss the disaster that struck Tachikawa in June 1953 when a US Air Force C-124 Globemaster II transport suffered an engine failure on take-off, crashing little time after. The crash claimed the lives of 129 people and was the deadliest air disaster in history at the time.
Markham left active service and joined the Air Force Reserve for five years.
“I joined the American Legion after that and I enjoy my fellowship with other Legion members,” Markham said. “It’s one of the main things of the American Legion, it’s the camaraderie of other veterans because they understand you and you understand them. They’re the ones who know what it was like to be in service, and that’s important later in life.
“It’s terrible that so many veterans are committing suicide and I think it’s important that the American Legion have this program to help prevent that. And having Jimmie Johnson as a spokesperson is publicity for new members, and we need it.
The American Legion member used to attend stock car races at the Nashville Fairgrounds and also competed in races at Bristol Motor Speedway. He believes the people of Nashville will adopt the very different form of racing from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, now that it takes place on the streets of Music City.
Markham has been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway several times for the Indianapolis 500 time trial, but has never been on the track on race day. He vividly remembers seeing Parnelli Jones driving the STP turbine on pole day in 1967.
“He’d be at the first corner before you heard the sound of the wind,” Markham recalls. “That’s all you heard. I went back a few years ago and saw this car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum. I enjoyed seeing this car again.
Johnson enjoyed his role during his first year as a representative of the American Legion and got to know many members. On Friday morning, he met Markham and took advantage of his time to share stories.
“I met Jim, and he certainly doesn’t look like 90,” Johnson said. “Having his charisma, his health, his point of view… I had a good time, and we laughed a lot. That’s a great man.
Johnson learned a lot about military veterans, even though he never served. “I have a crazy job myself, and there’s an instant respect I have for what they do, and I think it’s the same when they see me driving a race car,” did he declare. “This risk factor that comes from both professions is a shared respect.
“It is a huge honor to represent the Legion. Everyone I have met from the American Legion has been first class, in addition to serving our country. We try to raise awareness for many important causes and are part of a group that knows the importance of honoring those who have served. It has been a great affiliation for me. It opened my eyes even more to the great work the American Legion has done.