Salisbury marks Memorial Day
By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
At the historic National Cemetery, Walter Brotherton slowly pages through a grave directory attached to a mailbox.
“I’m looking for my uncle Norman Lee Stout,” he says, marking his spot with a finger. “He raised me like a father. I’ve never seen his grave.”
Brotherton happened to be at the Historic National Cemetery when ceremonies began on Monday morning, with the chiming of bells nine times at the cemetery. He stood solemnly with the crowd, hand over his heart, as “Taps” was played. The 21-gun salute by the Rowan County Veteran Honor Guard made a few in the crowd jump, and cemetery director John Spruyt spoke briefly.
The crowd listened as Spruyt quoted President Abraham Lincoln, when he spoke of the “last full measure of devotion.”
Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the American soldiers killed in nation’s conflicts, brought two services to Salisbury. The first, at the historic National Cemetery, was a wreath ceremony at the Rowan County memorial honoring veterans. The second took place at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner V.A. Medical Center national cemetery on Statesville Boulevard.
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Tim Blume, a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Marines and ground foreman at the V.A. National Cemetery, said being part of the cemetery and Memorial Day celebrations makes him feel like he’s still in service.
Though “once a Marine, always a Marine,” Blume sometimes misses the camaraderie of his brothers in arms.
Being at the cemetery, “It’s like an expansion of the military,” he said. “I still feel like I have a connection to the service.”
Blume and his crew attend about 600 burials per year at both national cemeteries in Salisbury, as well as four other cemeteries — New Bern, Wilmington, Raleigh and Danville, Va.
“In this job, you get to see the fruits of your labor,” said Blume. “You can see the effect you have on everybody.”
Martha Corriher sang patriotic music during the prelude, JROTC members from North and East Rowan gathered to post the colors. Homer Robertson, president of the Rowan County Veterans Council, was the event’s master of ceremonies, and promised to keep the ceremony as short as possible due to the heat.
The ceremony was held amid the white, orderly headstones of the men and women who served. Included during the ceremony were members of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group whose motto is “Standing for those who stood for us;” poems read by members of the Legion posts; proclamations from both the state of North Carolina and Gov. Bev Purdue and the city of Salisbury and Mayor Susan Kluttz; a 21-gun salute and playing of “Taps:” speeches by Spruyt and Paul M. Russo, direct of the V.A. Medical Center; and an address from Sgt. First Class Charles Hannel.
Hannel, a veteran of the Marine Corps, spoke about how special this Memorial Day was for him. Hannel is a member of the N.C. National Guard Honor Guard and was involved in bringing the remains of both Sgt. First Class Donald Shue home to Kannapolis last month and Private First Class Samuel Watkins home to Hendersonville this month.
“I always grew up seeing the POW/MIA flags,” said Hannel, who was born in 1962 and didn’t serve in Vietnam. “Having seen it flown is not the same as participating in (those POW/MIA) services.”
He said serving during those ceremonies gave him a sense of fulfillment. As flags snapped in the breeze, Hannel spoke simply.
“For me, every day is Memorial Day,” he said.
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Back at the Historic National Cemetery, Brotherton goes out often to the Historic National Cemetery, visiting the gravesite of his grandmother and grandfather, Donald and Margaret Brotherton, so he knows where their graves are.
“I’m the only one that can get out and take the flags and flowers,” said Brotherton. “They count on me to visit.”
Along with hundreds and thousands of civilians nationwide, Brotherton visits the graves at the National Cemetery often. Memorial Day is another day of remembrance for him.
“Sometimes, I come out here for peace,” he added. Slowly, he finds his uncle’s name, closes the grave directory and with a wave, walks off to find the grave.
Joanie Morris can be reached at 704-797-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.