Veterans young and old stood side-by-side Sunday at the front of the Agri-Exposition stage Sunday afternoon, all with heads bowed, as lone trumpeter Walter Bryant played the reverent strains of “Taps.” Some in the audience wiped tears; all stood completely still, many with hands over their hearts.
It was the solemn ending to a joyous day of tribute to veterans in Sampson County and beyond as part of the 13th annual Veterans Day Celebration.
A large gathering, many of them veterans and their families, turned out for the celebration which mirrored the patriotism all those attending said they felt in their hearts on the day set aside to honor veterans.
Earlier in the program veteran Donald Allen watched intently as VFW Post 7547 Color Guard members carried the American flag to the front of the Agri-Exposition Center stage, smiling a knowing smile. “This is just great,” he said after the event. “It just makes you feel so special, as a veteran, and it makes you feel so humble that others respect you and appreciate the service you gave.”
For Allen, Veterans Day and the celebrations surrounding it offer him, a 25-year Army veteran himself, an opportunity to pay his own respects to comrades in every branch of the Armed Services. “I salute all my comrades who dedicated their lives to service to their country.”
And, he said he was extremely proud of his county for the all-out way in which they honor veterans. “It makes me feel very proud of our own heritage here and the fact that so many come out to say their thanks. It speaks highly of our community,” the Garland resident stressed.
Next year, he said, he’d like to be a participant, reciting the Gettysburg Address for the gathered crowd. “I’d like to be a part, myself, and I think that address would be fitting.”
He brought that to the attention of Ann Knowles, Veterans Service Officer, who was beaming with pride after the celebration ended.
She listened intently to Allen and then assured him there would be a spot for him at next year’s celebration. “You get in touch with me and we can make that happen,” she said, patting him on the back.
Knowles was jubilant, noting her excitement over the turnout for the annual celebration. “Once again,” she declared, “Sampson County turned out to give their thanks to our veterans. We cannot thank them enough for their service, for the sacrifice they’ve made for our country.”
She praised the efforts of the Veterans Council, the county government, and all those who participated in one way or another during the hour-long tribute.
“They deserve everything we can do to honor them and so much more,” Knowles said of the men and women she fondly calls “my veterans.”
“All I really want to say is this is a great county, a great state and a great country. God bless America.”’
N.C. Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, was among those in attendance, the third such event he has participated in, and he expressed great gratitude for being able to be a part of what he called “a wonderful celebration.”
“My father was a World War II veteran and my brother was a veteran of the Vietnam War, but I can honestly say as much I respected them and all veterans I really never truly understood what their sacrifice meant until I stood in the General Assembly and debated issues with fellow lawmakers.
“To be able to express our differences in politics, religion, everything and, in the end, come together as citizens, that’s a truly precious gift and we have it because of all the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. I think about that all the time, and I appreciate and honor our veterans all the more because of that realization,” Jackson said.
During the ceremony J.W. Simmons, master of ceremonies, talked of that service to country and sacrifice, praising every veteran for gifts that he said could not be compared.
“You are special and you are appreciated,” Simmons noted.
“Sitting among us today are heroes … the men and women who have served us well in our fight for freedom. Today we honor them all. We thank every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform of the Armed Services of the United States of America. You are the ones that keep us free. We cannot celebrate freedom without remembering the great price paid for that freedom,” he continued.
“When we consider the untold numbers of men and women who choose to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to assure the well being of our nation, we are humbled by the eternal debt we owe.”
During the ceremony, which included Hobbton senior Mary Kaydon Thompson singing the National Anthem and her father Robbie, a veteran himself, belting out his rendition of the Neil Diamond song “Coming to America,” VFW Post 7547 Color Guard members posted the colors, the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Veterans Council judge advocate Tex Howard gave the always moving Prisoner of War presentation.
That was followed by keynote speaker Ray Johnson, a retired Brigadier General and Sampson County native, taking the podium to offer his own tribute to veterans.
“It’s important to remember the price our veterans have paid, and the price their families have paid. We should revere them as heroes because they are,” he stressed.
He talked about the plight of many veterans, with 1 in 4 from the Vietnam War homeless today.
“We must do more for our veterans,” he implored.