J.C. Price Memorial Week is fun with a higher purpose
SALISBURY — Abe Daniels, of Salisbury, is past commander of J.C. Price American Legion Post No. 107.
He’s also a retiree from the U.S. military who served three years in the Army and 18 in the Air Force.
The problem with Memorial Day, Daniels says, is that a lot of people don’t think of it as a “real holiday.”
Saturday, as people gathered for the Legion post’s annual Memorial Week festival, Daniels told the story of a young man who came to train with him at the barber shop where Daniels works.
The young man asked whether the shop would be closed for Memorial Day, Daniels said.
Told that they would be closed, Daniels said, the new barber said he didn’t understand why.
“You can imagine my reaction,” Daniels said. “I told him, ‘Son, let me tell you something,’ but I didn’t say it in those words.”
For Daniels, as for millions of Americans, Memorial Day is “to honor the dead and those who served. That’s what it’s really about.”
And the annual Memorial Week festivities, Daniels said, “are like the presents on Christmas. It’s just an addendum to what it’s really about.”
The Legion post’s weeklong Memorial Day celebration is a neighborhood tradition, an event that features music and dancing, carnival rides, games and food.
Post Commander Mae Carroll said the community that surrounds the Legion hall looks to the annual event as a chance to fellowship.
The event opened Friday with a kickoff dance, followed by Saturday’s retirement party for longtime DJ Mr. Clean, Disco Machine.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Gospel Fest at the Legion hall will be preceded by Post Everlasting services.
Both nights, Carroll said, the members of the Legion post will honor the 10 members who passed away during the previous year with a ceremony featuring a candlelight memorial and reading of names.
The gospel singing that follows will feature area groups including Men Over Sixty and the Gethsemane Choir. Gospel musician Roland Carter will emcee.
Thursday, carnival rides from TC’s Amusements will open.
There will be food, music and dancing throughout the week.
Even as the public enjoys the festivities, Carroll — who said she has been post commander at different times for much of the last 20 years — said this is a time that her American Legion post is going through transition.
“Right now, we’ve lost so many of our older veterans, and we are trying to focus on our younger veterans,” Carroll said.
She said that membership at Post No. 107 is currently 210, more than 150 fewer than it was a decade ago.
As the population of veterans from the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras shrinks, Carroll said there is still a need for help for veterans facing homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
“If it wasn’t for (veterans), they wouldn’t be free today,” Carroll said. “This is what I tell in the community.”
Moreover, she said, veterans who support the American Legion and other veterans services organizations are also supporting communities.
In addition to helping veterans get the benefits to which they’re entitled, Carroll said that events like Memorial Week build unity in the community.
“If we can get them in here, we can start showing them what we do,” Carroll said.
Daniels said the Legion post’s public activities, such as dances, provide a place to go in a community that has experienced economic hardship.
“We give money to different outreaches, from Livingstone College to the NAACP,” Daniels said. “We support all types of things.”
As for Memorial Week, Daniels said he always attends.
“Every year, I see somebody I haven’t seen in the preceding five or six years,” Daniels said.
Charles Weldon, who has been a member of the post for 55 years, was an infantryman during the Korean War era, serving in Germany from 1951 to 1953.
“I think we’ve been a lot of help to the community, myself,” Weldon said. As house manager, Weldon said he helps with organizing beverages and entertainment.
He said that the events the post sponsors help bring people together.
One of the oldest members of the Legion post doesn’t miss a year.
Fred Gibson said he joined the American Legion soon after he left the U.S. Army, in 1946.
Today, the Salisbury native is 92 years old, but said he still remembers when the Memorial Week celebrations were held on campus at Livingstone College.
“It used to be a crowd, people from everywhere,” Gibson said, sitting in his pickup truck.
Gibson recalled coming with his parents to the parades that used to be held during Memorial Week.
Today, he said, “I just come back to see what I can see.”
Many of the veterans of his era have either passed on, or are unable to travel.
But still, Gibson said, he won’t miss Memorial Week.
“I guess I’ll be here every day,” Gibson said.
For these veterans, the fun and games of Memorial Week are all a part of remembering those who are no longer able to be there to enjoy them.
Memorial Week is held on the grounds of J.C. Price American Legion Post 107, 1433 Old Wilkesboro Road.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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