Thousands celebrate Memorial Day at Veterans Park reopening
KANNAPOLIS – “What we have here in Kannapolis today is the best of America,” Governor Pat McCrory said just before noon Monday.
He spoke to a capacity crowd at the ceremony to honor veterans and to rededicate Veterans Park, a ceremony that included participation by members of the armed forces, local high school students and lawmakers.
In the two-and-a-half hour ceremony, the audience applauded time and again for those who served and, especially, those who gave their lives.
McCrory told the audience that citizens should also honor the families of those who serve.
He shared what he called “the most moving experience I’ve had since I have been governor, a meeting Monday morning with the Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives.
The organizations serve those who have lost loved ones in military service.
“They got the worst news, that I cannot even imagine,” McCrory said.
He asked the crowd to remember them. “They are the heroes. It’s not the football stars, not the politicians,” McCrory said.
Mayor Bob Misenheimer recounted the history of the 107-year-old downtown park, which was renamed in honor of servicemembers on Memorial Day 2001.
“Town Park became Veterans Park and has long been considered hallowed ground,” Misenheimer said.
Congressman Richard Hudson presented the city with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“What a beautiful park, what a beautiful lasting tribute we have here in Kannapolis,” Hudson said.
A few minutes later, the flag was raised over the park.
Hudson said that we live in a time when the nation faces many challenges.
“But as we face those challenges ... we can look at the commitment and the determination of our veterans as an example,” Hudson said.
American Legion State Commander Bill Richard recalled the scripture that to lay down one’s life for a friend is the greatest love of all.
“Veterans have shown themselves friends to not only their family members and neighbors, but to the nation,” Richard said.
And Ted Briggs, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, praised the turnout.
“I’ve never seen this many people at one gathering,” Briggs said.
In his keynote address, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Claude Rich said he was proud that the people and leaders of Kannapolis had “made Veterans Park a reality.”
“Throughout my life I’ve been proud to tell people that I was from North Carolina and especially that I was from Kannapolis,” he said.
A former F-4 fighter pilot, Rich flew 351 combat missions in southeast Asia.
Along the way, Rich said, he lost many friends and comrades.
Rich said that, on Memorial Day, “It is imperative to remember those who serve, as well as their families.”
After the ceremony, Misenheimer said it was very humbling to see the crowd.
And Gov. McCrory, who had originally been scheduled to leave after his remarks, stayed for the entire ceremony, and greeted local residents afterward.
“It’s overwhelming, but it’s an honor to be with these men and women,” McCrory said. “These are the real heroes of our country,” McCrory said of veterans lined up nearby. “These people want my picture, I want their picture. They allow me to serve.”
Former Kannapolis mayor Bachman Brown, himself a veteran, said Monday’s event drew “the biggest crowd we have ever had at one of these memorial day services.”
“I think what the city has done in revitalizing this park is probably something you won’t find many places, if any,” Brown said.
The park features 1,718 names of Rowan and Cabarrus residents who died in military service, across all eras.
They include Stanley George Pilot, Jr.
Gregg Dayvault, father of Kannapolis City Councilman Ryan Dayvault, pointed out Pilot’s name on the “ring of honor,” where the names of the dead are engraved.
Dayvault said Pilot was one of those killed when a turret exploded aboard the U.S.S. Newport News in 1972.
“He was my age,” Dayvault said. “We hunted arrowheads, fished together. He was like a dear brother to me.”
“I thank the Lord that his name is being acknowledged,” Dayvault said.
Around the ring of honor, numerous engraved brick pavers honor those who served, living and dead — sponsored by families and loved ones.
Gary Mills, director of Kannapolis Parks and Recreation, said 1,240 bricks have been installed and more are coming
Jane Harris said her family sponsored two, one for her late father-in-law and one for her brother-in-law.
“It’s a good reminder and a good way to keep their memory,” Harris said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.