Hundreds of people across the Cape Fear region paused Monday to thank thousands who gave their lives in military service during Memorial Day events.
The largest took place at Freedom Memorial Park in downtown Fayetteville, where Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith told a sun-splashed crowd that “your presence here today speaks volumes.
“Your remembrance of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice is appreciated.
“Across America, there are people who dream the dreams of freedom. There are those who live the dream. And there are those who must defend the dream.”
Smith, deputy commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, quoted former President Ronald Reagan, saying we should thank God for those willing to die defending that dream.
“They believed in the call of duty from their nation,” he said. “Peace is a fragile thing that requires constant vigilance.”
The ceremony also was an opportunity to salute Don Talbot, chairman of the park’s steering committee and one of its biggest supporters. Talbot received the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal.
“In the military, we like to recognize those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Smith said. “Mr. Talbot has done that with his tireless efforts.”
The ceremony was the 18th consecutive in downtown Fayetteville. Talbot said “it is a nice feeling to have so many people care to remember and appreciate the sacrifices of others who have kept our nation safe and secure.
“Feelings beget feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling. It is a great feeling to come together and share the feeling of our service men and women and the families who have lost loved ones in our wars and conflicts.”
Wreaths were placed to commemorate the fallen from wars dating to World War I. In addition, North Carolina’s Chapter 1 of Rolling Thunder honored those still missing.
Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson declared Monday a day of remembrance in the city.
“Let us pray for a permanent peace as the flag flies at half-staff,” he said.
Across Bragg Boulevard at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, retired Army canine handler David Nielsen told a hushed audience about the sacrifice of another fighter: Pepper, a trained German Shepherd who died helping flush a hidden sniper in Iraq.
“Pepper didn’t just lay down her life,” Nielsen said. “She did what she did out of love for her best friend and her pack. She’d do anything for us, but God help anyone who threatened her pack.
“She was a glowing eyed nightmare for foes.”
Sixty-two small flags dotted the canine memorial at the museum – one for each fallen dog used by the military since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Each is an American soldier – often many more than one – who came home because of their sacrifice,” said Chuck Yerry, president of the Special Operations Forces K9 Memorial Foundation.
In Spring Lake, Mayor Chris Rey addressed more than 350 people at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery who attended a ceremony and rededication of its committal structure.
“Today, we remember our veterans who stood at the gate of freedom,” Rey said.
The rededication was the culmination of a 4-year effort to enclose the once open-air funeral site.
“This was no way for families to say their good-byes to loved ones,” said the Rev. Archie Barringer, one of the people who spearheaded the effort to enclose the structure.
Ilario Pantano, director of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, joined Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, in laying a wreath near the bell tower.
“We’re here to remember all who have donned the national uniform,” Townsend said. “And we are here to honor those who have taken their final roll call. This place stands as a fitting tribute” to all branches of service, whether lives were lost in war, training or a retired veteran simply died in peace.
“What matters is they all raised their right hand, and served. To all, thank you. God bless the United States and our armed forces.”
There also was a ceremony scheduled Monday afternoon in Hope Mills.
Staff writer Bill Kirby Jr. contributed to this report.
Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3515.