When it comes military history in Sampson County, the heritage runs deep. Some of those roots stretch all the way to The Alamo in Texas and the Montford Point Marines camp in eastern North Carolina.
The Sampson County Veterans Council and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hosted the annual Memorial Day Celebration to pay homage to soldiers who gave their lives in battle. Hundreds gathered Monday at the Sampson County Veterans Park.
During a special presentation, Gunnery Sgt. Issac Miller was honored for his service with the Montford Point Marines – the first group of African-Americans to serve in The Corps. He was one of many soldiers trained at the racially segregated camp in Jacksonville, N.C. More than 20,000 men trained at the facility in the 1940s. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order to desegregate the military. The camp was later deactivated.
“Embodying the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), these heroes paved the way for future generations of warriors, regardless of background to serve in the finest military the world has ever known,” Tammy Williams said while reading words from President Barack Obama.
Williams, president of the N.C. Montford Point Marine Association’s Triad-Triangle Chapter, presented Miller’s granddaughter, Audry Spencer, with a Congressional Gold Medal. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional honor is the highest civilian award in the United States. A certificate of recognition was also presented.
The Louisiana native married the late Madge Faison Turlington of Clinton in 1954. He established a home in Clinton and was known in the community as “Papa.” Miller retired from military service in 1968, but remained in the reserves until 1974. He volunteered in the community at churches and nursing homes. In the 1970s, Miller became the first African-American to serve on the Clinton City Council for District 3. Spencer said it was an honor to receive the award on behalf of her grandfather, who died several years ago.
“He was a staunch person for education and helped improve Clinton as a city councilman,” Spencer said.
As the keynote speaker, Joel W. Rose, president of the Sampson County Historical Society, presented another historical soldier. He talked to the audience about Micajah Autry and the Battle of the Alamo, an historical moment in the Texas Revolution. Autry was born in Sampson County and enlisted with the Volunteer Auxiliary Corps of Texas in the 1830s. Before joining those groups of soldiers, he also volunteered to fight against the British in the War of 1812. He continued his service with the United States Army and remained a soldier until 1815. Autry later became a teacher and a farmer in Tennessee.
Rose also spoke about his law history and his friendship with Davy Crockett, a frontiersman and politician. After struggling financially, Autry decided to head West to Texas, where he later fought in the Alamo battle. Following a siege, which lasted about 13 days, Autry and other soldiers was killed by Mexican soldiers. With history about the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo,” Rose continued the story and talked about how Texas became a part of the United States, following more fights.
“Today, for those who visit the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin, the Alamo memorial stands tall near the entrance, with the names of those who died inscribed on the wall,” Rose said. “One of the first names is Sampson County’s Micajah Autry.”
Rose said it was terrific to have so much history in Sampson County.
“It’s a reflection that so many from Sampson County have been active and participated in wars from the Revolutionary War up to the wars in the Middle East today,” he said.
Ann Knowles, Sampson County Veterans Service Officer, expressed how everyone was special guests for spending a portion of their Memorial Day at the ceremony.
“I want to welcome each and every one of you for being here,” Knowles said. “You’re not at the beach and you’re not at a super sale at Belks. You are here honoring those who have given their life and have lost their life for our freedom.”
Many community organizations and members participated in Monday’s event. Some of them included the Color Guard from VFW 7547, American Legion Post 319 and its Ladies Auxiliary.
Following remarks from presenters, the named of deceased veterans were called at the ceremony by Robert Brown, president of the Sampson County Veterans Council, and Alvin Herring, vice president. Boy Scouts from Troop 133 assisted the veterans with placing red and white roses at the Rufus G. Herring monument.
“You’re here becuase they can’t be here,” Knowles said referring to the community’s support to those who served.