Wreath-laying honors local veterans
By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
Seventy-seven wreaths were placed across the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex at the VA Hospital Saturday as part of the Wreaths Across America nationwide event to honor veterans.
“The freedoms that we enjoy today have not come without a price,” said Ron Faggart, state captain of North Carolina’s Patriot Guard Riders, who helped coordinate and participated in the event.
“We have the right to succeed and we also have the right to fail,” said Faggart. “Our nation is a shining beacon of freedom and liberty to the world.
“We are here today to say thank you, honor those who served, and teach the children the value of freedom.”
During the ceremony, over 20 members of the Patriot Guard Riders held American flags in a semi-circle around others holding flags of the seven branches of military services: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and POW/MIA.
Veterans and Salisbury High School Air Force JROTC members placed a wreath in front of each military branch’s flag.
After the ceremony, 77 wreaths were available for anyone to place in front of a gravesite. Tony Peeler, who served in the US Army from 1972-1996, was looking for one of his good friend’s sites to honor with a wreath. The friend, Emmitt G. King, III, was a patient of his in the mental intensive care unit at the VA Hospital.
“He was one of my patients, but he also became one of my best friends,” said Peeler, who gave the eulogy at his funeral.
“He had a cell phone, and he used to call me 30 times a day,” he said. “We buried him with his cell phone on his chest.
“Emmitt received the Bronze Star of Valor for his time in Vietnam. He was very brave. I don’t think anyone knew that but his family. He would go out and fight a whole company of Vietnamese by himself. Nothing scared him.
“If he was your friend, he was your friend. He would have done anything for me.”
The Salisbury High School’s AFJROTC helped gather donations for the 77 wreaths used in the ceremony, with their instructor, Major Queen Williams, pulling out the stops to get as many wreaths as possible.
“We got sponsors, friends, family to donate $15 for each wreath,” said Maj. Williams, who also had 32 wreaths going to the National Cemetery in Salisbury. “Next year, we’d like to get 500 at each cemetery. The more money we collect, the more wreaths we can buy. We’re going to start working for next year’s event immediately.”
Chelsea Woods, a AFJROTC cadet, enjoyed the ceremony, and the respect shown for the veterans. She visited the site of her aunt and uncle who are buried together in the cemetery. She had only seen them once in her life.
“It’s showing that I respect my country and I respect the people serving our country for us to be free,” Woods said.
AFJROTC cadet Nicholas McMillian said the ceremony made him “feel good.”
“It means a lot to the people who are family to these veterans, and my family’s had military history,” said McMillian, whose father and both grandparents served in the military and wars. “I’m going to join the Air Force.”
“I was tickled to death with the participation and people that came out today,” Faggart said. “This was our best one yet.”
Faggart’s father stormed Normandy and went through the toughest parts of Germany during World War II. Due to an accident in high school causing Faggart to lose an eye, he was unable to serve in the military.
“I’m doing my service now,” he said. “Wreaths Across America means to remember, honor and teach. It’s important to teach our children how they have the freedoms they have today, and to honor those who gave their lives for what we have today.
“The problems we have today stem from people forgetting about those who have served and are serving for our freedom and the freedom of other countries. It’s a shame that people forget.”
Faggart said he was very proud of the ceremony and that, “hopefully next year’s will be bigger,” he said.
“The families of our service men are suffering just as much as the veterans,” he said. “It’s important to honor and involve everyone.”
Anybody interested in donating money for next year’s event can contact Maj. Williams at Salisbury High School, 704-636-1221.