Wreath-laying ceremony honors veterans for service

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Frank DeLoache

Salisbury Post

“5 minutes.”

“2 minutes, 30 seconds.”

“1 minute.”

Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Robert M. Fox counted the time down methodically Thursday.

Precisely at noon Eastern Standard Time, he called the honor guard, color guard and uniformed wreath-layers to attention, surrounded by a handful of witnesses and, more importantly, hundreds of white granite headstones at the National Cemetery annex on the grounds of the Hefner VA Medical Center.

The timing was important because across town at the Salisbury National Cemetery and at hundreds of other national and state cemeteries and veterans monuments across the country, others were drawing to attention at the exact same time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join with me in a minute of silences to remember the fallen, the prisoners of war, the missing in action and honor those who have served and are serving this great nation’s armed services,” Fox said.

In the quiet, a comforting breeze gently held out the flags of America’s five military services — Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy — and the nation’s Missing in Action.

Cadets from Civil Air Patrol’s Golden Eagle Squadron in Rowan County and the Air Force JROTC unit at Salisbury High School participated in the ceremony, along with an honor guard and bugler from the National Guard in Winston-Salem.

Standing to one side in a leather-clad group were members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a veterans organization of largely motorcycle riders known for providing escorts at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.

“We are gathered here today at this memorial site and memorial sites all across America to remember that we are one nation with one flag,” Civil Air Patrol Maj. Theodore “Ted” McKay said. “We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, many races, from many walks of life.

“… Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”

During the ceremony, teams of cadets placed six wreaths — for each branch of the military and also those missing in action — by the flag pole that stands at the top of the hill at the National Cemetery annex off Statesville Boulevard.

Simultaneously, other cadets were conducting the same ceremony on Military Avenue near downtown Salisbury and across the United States.

Worcester Wreath Co. of Main donated thousands of wreaths for the nationwide ceremonies, including 5,000 wreaths for graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

“The wreaths before you represent our commitment as a united America to remember the fallen, McKay said. “We also want these holiday wreaths to symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices every day on our behalf.

“To our children, we want you to understand the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free but have come with a cost that someday you may have to pay yourself.”

McKay also warned his audience against thinking of the graves in the cemetery representing many nameless veterans. He asked each person to write down the name from a headstone, “and when you return home, research the name on the Internet and find out all you can about this person.”

“You will find they were real Americans with families, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles,” McKay said. “They were and are more than just a statistic.”

After the honor guard fired volleys in salute, the National Guard bugler ended the service with “Taps.”

Contact Frank DeLoache at 704-797-4245 or fdeloache@salisburypost.com.