LUMBERTON — While barbecues and fun activities welcoming the summer season should be part of the day’s celebration, speakers at Memorial Day services across Robeson County on Monday urged that the true meaning of Memorial Day never be forgotten.
“On this solemn day we pause to pay homage, to show respect, to acknowledge the sacrifice, and to show our gratitude to those men and women who gave their lives in defense of the United States of America throughout our great history,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Lynn E. Locklear, who currently serves as a civilian force manager for the Joint Special Operations command at Fort Bragg.
Locklear was the keynote speaker at the annual Memorial Day ceremony sponsored by Disabled Veterans Chapter No. 7, of Lumberton, and held in the garden adjacent to the Robeson County Library. About 75 people attended the event that included the drama team of First Baptist Church of Fairmont, the South Robeson High School Color Guard, and Tarea Stephens, who sang the national anthem.
To the surprise of 26-year-old Rando Tyler, of Lumberton, Henry Caulder, the DAV chapter’s commander, presented him with a United States flag for being the youngest veteran at the ceremony. Tyler served in the National Guard Unit in St. Pauls from the time he was 17 until he was 22, which included a tour in Iraq.
“I had a friend in the same battalion (Adam Marion) who was killed in a rocket attack while we were deployed,” Tyler told The Robesonian after the ceremony.
Caulder said that he would have liked to have seen elected officials present at Monday’s ceremony.
“Memorial Day is very significant to me,” Caulder said. “As we get older, we have more memories. This is a special day for us to honor those who are no longer here who defended their country.”
St. Pauls VFW Post 12025 and American Legion Post 5 held their event at the site of the town’s War Memorial. Staff Sgt. Derek Adams, a resident of St. Pauls who has been deployed twice to Iraq and Afghanistan with the National Guard, was the keynote speaker before more than 100 residents.
Adams, 26, called on young people to consider the military as they look toward their future career.
“Set goals high and young people can do anything they want,” said Adams, who himself joined the National Guard while still in high school. “How much they can achieve is limited only by the goals they set for themselves.”
He said that Memorial Day is especially significant to him since he was so close to individuals, such as Marion, who died serving their country.
Adams said that the support he and other deployed soldiers from St. Pauls received was “phenomenal.”
“They sent us mail and packages. Everyone in the company got a birthday card. We even received letters from elementary school students,” he said.
Karl Whitby, the post’s commander, said that he asked Adams to speak at the ceremony to provide a younger perspective to war and the sacrifices that those in the military make.
In a brief ceremony in Fairmont, attended by about 35 people, participants were educated on how to receive Veterans Administration services. Chris Oxendine, Robeson County’s Veterans Affairs officer, discussed the process veterans should follow in order to receive benefits.
Megan Locklear, 24, who served three and a half years in the National Guard, is going to follow Oxendine’s advice.
“Receipt of medical insurance is important for me,” she said.
Locklear also people should take time out to reflect on the holiday’s true meaning.
“People should think more about the troops than cookouts,” she said.
On Saturday, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8969 kicked off its Memorial Day celebration in Lumberton.
“A Night with Veterans,” held at Bill Sapp Recreation Center, drew dozens of veterans along with loved ones, local officials, law enforcement and members of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart because it recognizes the extreme sacrifices of those veterans that came before me and its gives me a perspective on what the important things are in life,” said Al Floyd, one of the moderators for the event and senior vice commander for the post.
The evening centered on the presentation of the missing man table. A red rose represented the joy and happiness brought by each veteran, a black napkin “the darkness of captivity,” and a lemon, each person’s “bitter fate.”
Kenneth Sinclair, the post commander, said he was thinking of many fellow veterans throughout the night.
“There are so many veterans (here) … I always walk up to them and tell them thank you for their service, especially the ones who came out of Vietnam, that wasn’t a popular war,” said Sinclair, who served in the Air Force from 1971 to 1992.
Sinclair said he and his fellow post members typically spend the Memorial Day weekend placing flags on the graves of veterans. This year, a little more time went into Saturday’s ceremony, which was for the first time open to the public.
“It’s nice because what we’re doing is giving back to the homeless veterans home here …,” he said. “Our post is trying to let Lumberton know that we’re here and we’re active.”
The evening not only honored veterans of past wars, but also young people beginning their careers in service.
Alterry Reyes, a senior at Lumberton High School, took third place in the Voice of Democracy essay contest, in which high school students were asked what the flag means to them.
“It’s a sense of pride of respect,” said Reyes, summing up his page-long answer.
Alterry Reyes will be following in the footsteps of many men in his family.
“It means a lot to me because overall [Alterry] has overcome statistics of what they said he wouldn’t accomplish,”Jasmine Reyes said. “He’s accomplished a lot.”
Also at the event, Detective Fabian Hewitt, of the Lumberton Police Department, was named Service Person of the Year, and Tim Taylor, director of Lumberton’s Recreation Department, was named Civilian of the Year.