A grateful nation pays tribute to veterans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sara Gregory
Salisbury Post
The only poppies Monday were those pinned to the lapels of veterans.
The only gunfire that of a three-volley salute.
But as a mournful “Taps” echoed through the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex, those resting row on row beneath white tombstones were honored at the Memorial Day remembrance ceremony.
“Look around you,” cemetery Director Gregory Whitney said. “You’ll see the cost and ultimate sacrifice citizens of this country have made.
“They gave so much.”
Those who perished in service to the United States were honored Monday across Rowan County and the nation. At the cemetery, flags adorned 10,000 graves.
The county’s veterans groups gathered as Civil Air Patrol cadets carried the flags of the various armed forces, North Carolina and the U.S. in the parade of colors.
Air Force Capt. Ronald Smith, the keynote speaker, said while growing up, he wanted to be just like his dad, a World War II veteran who fought on D-Day.
“I’ll never forget how proud I was when he would put on those Air Force blues,” Smith said.
After service in the ROTC at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Smith was commissioned into the Air Force.
He flew C-141 airplanes in Vietnam, delivering medicine and military equipment to dangerous battle areas.
But on return trips, Smith said he would often look into the back of the plane only to see 25 to 30 flag-draped caskets. Bringing those soldiers back to their families was a sad but great honor.
“Those folks made the supreme sacrifice,” he said.
Smith challenged veterans and others to teach youth the importance of Memorial Day.
“Too many do not appreciate the service,” he said.
“Make it a point today and every day to thank (veterans). Let them know how much you appreciate them.”
Some youth at the service already have heeded his call.
West Rowan High School’s JROTC spent Saturday with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Civil Air Patrol cadets to help place flags on the grave sites.
This summer, Krystal Thomas, a junior at West Rowan, will head to boot camp after enlisting in the Army.
She’s helped place flags on the graves before, and said the experience was life-changing.
“It felt like we were actually doing something important,” Thomas said, adding that it made her more aware of the sacrifices made.
“All this didn’t come for free.”
Contact Sara Gregory at 704-797-4257 or sgregory@salisburypost.com.