While standing in front of an audience at Sampson County Veterans Park Monday morning, J.W. Simmons posed an important question. “What would you give your life for?” he asked.
As the keynote speaker for the Memorial Day program, Simmons ticked off some of the answers, even as made more queries. He questioned if people were willing to give their life for their country, like so many soldiers have done before. He said the people the were memorializing Monday were ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.
“The few who are gathered here today is the reason why,” he said to the crowd filled with veterans and community members. “For those people who have died in the line of duty, you are the reason we are all here.”
The program was hosted by the Sampson County Veterans Council and the Sampson County Veterans Service Office and it paid tribute to men and women who have served their country.
Simmons was introduced by Ann Knowles, Veterans Service Officer, as someone who is not a special guest to Sampson County. His voice is heard every week on the local WCLN radio station. He’s not a veteran, but his father served in the U.S. Navy.
During his remarks, Simmons also alluded to the fact that veterans are not receiving the proper care. Simmons said people should have compassion when it comes to the care of soldiers.
He later recited a quote from Gen. George S. Patton.
“It’s foolish and wrong to mourn the men who have died,” Simmons said about Patton’s words. “He said rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
While addressing the audience Simmons referred to his original question and talked about a military code of conduct. Some of the articles included the possibility of being a prisoner of war or not coming back home.
“Freedom, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, those things that are wrapped in the Constitution of the United Sates, is what all of those people we’re talking about today died for,” he said. “What would you die for?”
Simmons said the majority of people in attendance were probably 60 and older. He indicated that a lot of younger people maybe “just don’t get it.”
“They haven’t lived with it, they haven’t seen it,” he stressed. “Yet as we stand here in multiple locations throughout the world, troops are deployed.”
Throughout history, millions of people have served in world wars, regional wars, conflicts or deployments.
“No matter what title you put on it, the likelihood that an American soldier is going to die faces you as a reality every day,” he said.
He questioned where would America be if people were not willing to give their lives. He told a story of the 9/11 attacks, which involved a firefighter and a soldier.
“He took the flag from the firefighter and said we got it from here,” Simmons said. “That’s what the military does. When it goes beyond our capability or unbelievable expectation to deal with, the military steps in and says we got it from here.”
Knowles showed appreciation for those who attended and acknowledged that they did not sleep in or go to the beach for Memorial Day. She said there should have been close to 500 people in attendance, but Simmons said about 2 percent of people in every organization makes things happen.
“Maybe you’re part of that 2 percent,” he said. “Maybe you’re a part of those people who say I will never forget and I will reach my hand over my heart when the National Anthem is played.”
Some of the other features of the ceremony Monday included a wreath laying and the calling of names for veterans who served in all wars. As their names were read, a flower was placed near the monument at the park.
“What a small thing that we can do to give the honor,” Knowles said.
During her closing remarks, Knowles recognized several people in attendance and others who made the event a success.
Tex Howard, president of the Sampson County Veterans Council, indicated that the attendance means a lot.
“This is a personal event for me, having served in combat and seeing so many comrades fall in the line of duty,” Howard said.
Chase Jordan can be reached at (910) 592-8137 ext. 136. Follow us on Twitter @ SampsonInd