PEMBROKE — Veterans from World War II to Afghanistan were honored for their service to their country Saturday in Pembroke with a parade and flag-raising ceremony.
The streets along the parade route, from Pembroke Elementary School to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Performing Arts Center, were lined with people of all ages, many cheering and saluting as the more than 60 parade units marched by. Included in the parade were JROTC units from all of the county’s six public high schools.
Following the parade, about 150 people gathered at the Pembroke Town Park for the flag-raising ceremony. Veterans from all branches of the military and every war since World War II swapped accounts of their military experiences with one another as they waited for the ceremony to begin.
“I thought this was a fantastic event,” said Joel Garth Locklear Sr., who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. “The Lord blessed us with a beautiful day.”
Locklear said he was one of seven brothers who served in the military.
“We all volunteered,” he said. “We all joined (the military) to serve our country.”
John C. Atkinson, a retired National Guard major general, was the featured speaker. He told the veterans that no matter how old they are, how long they served, or how long they have been out of the military, they are still serving their country by passing their values and love of country on to today’s young people.
Atkinson called on the veterans to continue to serve their country by instilling in young people patriotism and love of country.
“If you look around at the young kids here today, you see those who will follow in your footsteps,” he said. “You will be their mentors. Their service will be purely voluntary.
“Those in the military serve out of patriotism to their country. Like those who serve in rescue squads and police departments, they can never be paid enough for the services and protection they provide.
“Stand up for America, be that role model, and our country will move forward in the right direction.”
Atkinson told the veterans that regardless of the length of their military service, they served their country and are entitled to receive appropriate benefits.
“If you don’t stand up and say something, you won’t get the benefits you deserve,” he said.
Atkinson’s message was received well by Talesha Locklear, a participant in the JROTC program at South Robeson High School.
“His message really came from the heart,” she said.
Daniel Jones, a Vietnam War veteran and commander of Locklear-Lowry VFW Post 2843 in Pembroke, noted that “Americans owe a huge debt to those in the military who have protected our country’s freedom.”
Greg Cummings, who served in Vietnam in 1968 and helped organize Saturday’s events, said the parade in Pembroke dates back to World War II and is one of the oldest in the state.
Veterans Day activities were also held Saturday in Fairmont.
During a ceremony, Mayor Charles Kemp read to an audience of about 50 about the exploits of the famed all-black World War II Army Air Corps flying team, the Tuskegee Airmen. He then introduced the Rev. James “Jimmy” Jones, a Robeson County native who was a member of the group.
Jones, 85, spoke about the group’s service. He also told the audience about his own participation as a crew chief, whose job it was to keep the squadron’s planes in tip-top flying shape.
Also speaking at the ceremony was retired Air Force officer and former Lumberton City Councilman Robert Shaw. He asked the audience to remember the long and proud service of veterans everywhere.
It was President Woodrow Wilson who first proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, as Armistice Day. Armistice Day was proclaimed to commemorate the signing of the treaty that ended combat in World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 that changed the holiday to Veterans Day to honor and recognize veterans of all wars.