Parade holds special place in local Guardsmans memories of his father
By Pam Horne, Managing Editor
Williamson County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Dunning will be the lead car in this year’s annual Veteran’s Day Parade, an event that holds a special place in his heart.
It was this parade that his late father participated in just a few months before his death in 2011.
“He wanted all the boys to ride in the Veteran’s Day Parade, “ Dunning said of the special request made by his late father Thomas G. Dunning, a veteran of World War II, to the three Dunning brothers, all veterans.
“My brother Mike, a Marine, and my brother Tommy, a Vietnam veteran—one of the first ones sent over in 1966—and I rode together with our Dad in November of 2010.”
The opportunity to fulfill the request of his father, a retired Army veteran and aged man, was an extraordinary experience for Lt. Dunning, himself a veteran of the Army National Guard.
“He died in my arms that next January,” said Dunning, adding that the opportunity to lead this year’s parade is an assignment he is humbled to have been given by Sheriff Jeff Long.
Dunning has served in law enforcement locally, first with the Franklin Police Department, before his service with the Sheriff’s Department for more than 30 years.
But he says it was the example his father set as a career Army man, that paved the way for him to be successful in the disciplined field of law enforcement and public safety.
At the young age of six, Dunning came to Franklin when his father retired from the Army and took a job with Tennessee Crate Co. in the early 1960s.
After attending Franklin Elementary, Franklin Junior High School and ultimately graduating from Franklin High School, where he lived to play baseball for coaches like Bob Hardison and Jimmy Gentry, Dunning planned to avoid the Vietnam draft with a college deferment.
There was never any discussion of athletic scholarships, even though his reputation as a high school pitcher was solid. He grins when recollecting the day he pitched a no-hitter his senior year against Bellevue High School.
“Once you turned 18 you were old enough for the draft and if you didn’t have a good reason you had to go.”
By the time he finished high school, Vietnam was coming to a close and he was able to begin working with his father in construction.
But Dunning said he had always wanted to be a pilot, so he investigated opportunities with the Army National Guard.
When he didn’t pass the vision test of his flight physical, he learned about another option from the flight physician.
“He told me I should consider a position called Flight Operations Coordinator.
“You work in a control tower almost like an air traffic controller,” he explained. “You approve all flight plans and make sure there is enough fuel on board, route plans are approved” and handle various operations matters related to the mission.
After basic training in South Carolina and additional training at Fort Rucker in Alabama, Dunning was assigned to the Smyrna Airbase of the Army National Guard.
From 1975 until he finished his six-year commitment, he was able to pursue his interest in aviation, working closely with flight crews preparing for various missions.
In 1981, he returned to his hometown of Franklin and got involved with police work during a time when the city’s boundaries stopped at Ralston Lane on State Hwy. 96east.
The small city police department, led by Chief Dave Lewis, gave him his first break, but it was the opportunity to serve as a deputy under Sheriff Fleming Williams that gave him his start working for law enforcement in the county.
Dunning celebrated his 30-year anniversary with the department last April.
Today, he heads a staff of 36 individuals working three shifts, covering the 580 square miles in the county’s jurisdiction.
He handles all vehicle maintenance, a fleet of fifty patrol cars and several programs, including Project Lifesaver for residents who have Alzheimer’s.
Three decades of service has meant working under several different elected officials.
Following the retirement of Fleming Williams, Dunning worked for Sheriff Lance Saylor, Sheriff Bill LeCates, Sheriff Ricky Headley, and his good friend and colleague Chief Deputy Dusty Rhoades when he stepped in as acting sheriff. Today he reports to Sheriff Jeff Long.
A father of two sons, both Independence High School graduates, Dunning has a heart for young men, who are striving to find a suitable career that fits their gifts and talents.
His advice is simple.
“Have a goal set of what you want out of life,” he urged. “Anything that you want to do in life that you can do well and make a good name for yourself will make your parents proud.”
Today, Dunning will take the lead post of this 2013 Veteran’s Parade with a sweet memory on his mind, the day he was able to make his father proud.
Posted on: 11/8/2013