See related editorial A4
Veterans from every branch of the service were recognized Monday in a celebration that commemorated their hard work, dedication, and determination to protect and serve this country
“I ask that you read ‘In Flanders Field’ to fully realize the importance of Veterans Day and what it means,” said Sampson County Commissioner Jefferson Strickland in his opening remarks to a crowd of Sampson residents and dozens upon dozens of veterans.
“There are seats missing today, and I want to remember the World War II veterans, members of the ‘Greatest Generation’ and others that have gone on,” he continued.
Michael Chestnutt, resident of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, reminded the crowd that it is the soldier, not the minister, that gives us freedom of religion, and he praised the Sampson community for always being supportive and patriotic people.
Among those in attendance were N.C. Sen. Brent Jackson, state Rep. Larry Bell, Sampson County Register of Deeds Eleanor Bradshaw, and commissioner Jarvis McLamb, among others. But the most special guests there were the veterans who rose to their feet later in the celebration as their branch of service was called.
It was stated during the program that in 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed Armistice Day into Veterans Day in order to rededicate the country to promoting enduring peace for those that served and fought so gallantly for our country, something Sampsonians worked hard at Monday as tribute was paid to all veterans for their service and sacrifice.
To commemorate the POWs and those that are MIA, a POW presentation was made by Tex Howard, vice president of the Sampson County Veterans Council, who explained the symbolism behind the table that was set on the stage before the audience. Each item on the table had a special meaning. The table, which is set for one, is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that many have made for this country and exactly what that means for not only service members, but also their families. The small table is meant to remind those of the frailty of one prisoner alone against their oppressors and it is round to remind of the everlasting concern for those that are missing or prisoners.
“The white tablecloth symbolizes the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms,” said Howard. The white candle reminds of the home and heart that is waiting for their return with the rose symbolizing the families the loved one.
“A red ribbon tied to the vase represents the proper accounting of those that are missing,” he said. The lemon wedge has a bitter flavor to remind of their bitter fate with the salt that is upon the plate to remind of all the tears that are shed. The Bible represents the higher power of ‘One nation under God’ while the glass on the table is inverted for the ones that cannot toast.
The keynote speaker, Colonel William Howard Sessoms, grew up in Sampson County as an Army brat, he told the audience when he took the podium. His father joined the service in 1929 and he was a World War II veteran who retired in 1951 and bought a farm on Dunn Road.
“I was in basic training for the first 18 years of my life,” he said in his speech. His time with his father led him to join up in 1970. His mother was also from Sampson County, and his uncle was a Marine, someone he told the audience he considered his hero.
His family has roots back to the Revolutionary War. He was four when his father retired and he grew up learning about good people from living in Sampson County.
“I learned what it was to be honest, and have character. I knew what it was to praise the Lord and the value of hard work. I knew that hard work wouldn’t kill you,” he stated. “It is the same now, here in Sampson County, a place based on traditional family values.”
“I loved being raised here, and I am proud of it,” he said. He further went into detail about his time in Vietnam and he said that two of his close friends were killed while there. He also noted that Colonel Wayne McLamb, from Newton Grove, was instrumental in mentoring him.
He did two tours at the Pentagon.
“All I can say about that is that Washington D.C. is different from Sampson County, and I went from a Sampson County outhouse to the Washington D.C. White House,” said Sessoms, earning him a chuckle from the crowd. He said that we need Sampson County values to bring this country back together.
Taps was played by Walter Bryant, a member of the VFW Post 7547, who has played the haunting restrain dozens of years. Following the traditional song, Bryant was presented with a plaque commemorating his contributions.
“The ceremony was wonderful and patriotic. It brought together the different branches of the service. They truly honored the friends and families of soldiers,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Shelby in an interview after the celebration.
After the ceremony Veterans and their families were invited to a reception sponsored by the Sampson County office of Veterans Services.
“I am honored to be here,” said Col. Frederick Maxwell (RET), president of the Sampson County Veterans Council.
“I always knew I was going to be in the military,” he said in an interview after the ceremony. When he was first looking to join he said he was talking to a Marine recruiter, and he was having trouble connecting with him. One day he ran into an Army recruiter while he was waiting all day for the Marine recruiter who ended up not making the meeting. The Army recruiter ended up buying him a Coke, and Maxwell said while he sat there waiting, watching the condensation run down the side of that bottle, he ended up asking that Army recruiter the ago old question of ‘Where do I sign up?’. When asked by the Army recruiter about why he changed his mind from the Marines to the Army, Maxwell said his answer was simple. He told the Army recruiter that he changed his mind all because the recruiter bought him a Coke.
That Coke took Maxwell to many places over the years. He served for over 30 years, 25 of which were on active duty. He served in the signal corps and served around the world, earning combat patches for both Vietnam and Somalia. Maxwell has been married for over 42 years, and his wife, Lila, supported him during his time in the service. She pinned on his bars when he was commissioned and Maxwell said that was one of the most important times in his career.