It was truly a day for the veterans in Sampson County, spent honoring those who served and continue to serve by paying tribute to their sacrifice and breaking ground to ensure that rich history of military service is preserved for generations to come.
The day started out at the Sampson County History Museum, where a large crowd gathered on the rear grounds at 10:45 a.m on a crisp Saturday morning. Some remarks were given by Kay Raynor, president of the Sampson County History Museum Board, and Sampson Veterans Service Officer Ann Knowles, leading up to the top of the hour.
“All of you are special guests, but we especially want to welcome the veterans here this morning,” Raynor remarked. “You are members of an elite group that should never be taken for granted.”
She said the 11 buildings on the grounds were open to everybody in attendance, and they could not wait to make it 12.
“By next year this time, we hope we have an even dozen for you to visit,” she said.
“We are so excited that we are going to have this museum to honor our veterans,” Knowles added. “This has been a dream for years.”
She recognized a number of veterans, including the two oldest in Sampson County — WWII veterans Ester James King and Wilbert Ammons. “This is our history right here,” Knowles attested.
Among the many recognized by Raynor and Knowles, they expressed gratitude to the Sampson County Veterans Council, including president Robert Brown, vice president Alvin Herring Jr., secretary/treasurer Willie Mitchell, judge advocate Marshall Thornton, and the many others. They also thanked David King, co-founder of the museum, whose vision along with wife Jeannie and Henry Lee “Fes” Turlington led to the establishment of the museum at the century-old, two-story house on Lisbon Street in downtown Clinton 20 years ago.
The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources gave support for the foundation and the museum has grown substantially over the years. Now, it is growing some more.
“This is the day you make history for all the veterans of Sampson County,” Knowles said, just before distributing shovels to the many local dignitaries, veterans and other officials in attendance so that ground could be broken at the future military museum site. “It is very important that we do this right on the 11th hour in honor of Veterans Day.”
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 marked the end of major hostilities of World War I. The United States previously observed Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice with Germany, and the U.S. holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
“We couldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these veterans,” said Sampson Board of Commissioners chairman Clark Wooten. “We thank them for their service in the past and those who currently serve. They are why we are able to stand here today.”
Following the groundbreaking, Knowles also recognized contractor Don Puryear, who will be doing the work. He called it a “deep honor and privilege” to be chosen for the project. Knowles promised a state-of-the-art facility inside and out. There are currently more than two centuries of military artifacts in storage for the museum and she sees big things for the building.
The dream started about three years ago and hit the ground in January with a $100 donation from Knowles’ own pocket. She gave it to History Museum board member Marshall Falatovich, who worked the phones and pounded the pavement to raise money throughout the year along with others. To date, $130,000 has been raised for the military museum. That will get a beautiful building put up, but still $100,000 is needed to outfit the interior and make it the state-of-the-art landmark that Knowles and others have seen in their dreams.
“The preservation of history is equally as important as making history, because if you make history and go not preserve it, it is forgotten,” said City of Clinton Councilman Marcus Becton. “This is a wonderful day.”
In the afternoon, the 19th annual Veterans Day Celebration was held at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center, sponsored by Sampson County, the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, the Expo Center and the Sampson County Office of Veterans Service and the county’s Veterans Council.
Cliff Ireland, a veteran himself and narrator for the program, said the Veterans Day holiday was to honor sacrifices made for this country and “to honor all of those who found so gallantly to protect freedoms we have today, as well as those who currently serve in our Armed Forces.”
Wooten, Brown and Dee Bryant, president of the Chamber of Commerce, each offered remarks at the top of the program and musical entertainment was provided by Dwight Williams Jr. and Mary Jo Carr, who offered a patriotic medley; Williams and Thelton Ray Best III, who sang “Sacrifice for Me,” each as patriotic scenes from across the country showed on the big screen behind them. Reigning Miss Greater Sampson County Outstanding Teen Sarah Daughtry, then offered her selection of “God Bless the USA.”
Dr. Theodore Thomas III, who served in the military, provided the keynote address, entitled “In the Midst of a Battle.” That battle presents itself in many different ways, both literally and figuratively when the battlefield is a distant memory.
“These battles rage on even after the service,” said Thomas, noting warriors who come home wounded, physically, mentally and emotionally. “We didn’t come back the way we left. We’re not the same person we were. We find ourselves again in the midst of a battle.”
Thomas said one out of every three Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, which often leads to alcohol abuse, violent behavior, depression and sometimes homelessness. He pointed to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Knowles’ Veterans Service Office. All are there to serve as a resource for veterans, past and present. It is crucial that we look out for those who looked out for us — and our country, Thomas attested.
“We have to find something to help our veterans because that battle rages on every day. Don’t be dismayed. Even though some of us suffer though these things, we still have hope,” he imparted.
Thomas noted that “under God” was added to the “Pledge of Allegiance” in 1954, the same year Armistice Day became Veterans Day. He said that was fitting. Even if you think you have nothing or nobody, there is a higher power keeping watch.
“When you’re in the midst of a battle,” Thomas said, “you never go alone.”
For more information on how to donate to the military museum, call 910-590-0007 or email email@example.com. Donations may also be mailed to: Sampson County History Museum, 313 Lisbon St., (P.O. Box 786) Clinton, N.C. 28329.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.