Honoring the ‘Greatest Generation’
KANNAPOLIS — They marched off to war seven decades ago as young men.
Monday, on Memorial Day, about 75 local World War II veterans and surviving spouses, plus their families, gathered again.
They may not be marching today as they did when the war ended in 1945, but they are still appreciated.
And they were welcomed to a noontime ceremony at Veterans Park in Kannapolis with cheers, applause and music.
The Memorial Day celebration drew approximately 900 people downtown, according to Kannapolis Parks and Recreation.
A parade featured JROTC cadets from four local high schools, followed by a group of marching veterans.
World War II veterans followed, riding in vehicles. A phalanx of Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles rounded out the parade.
For Maxine Kennerly, of Mooresville, the parade was a touching and well-deserved tribute.
Her uncle, Clyde Seaford, of Kannapolis, served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Seaford was one of the American soldiers who took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
A few days shy of the 70th anniversary of that attack, Seaford was mentioned by name during the Memorial Day ceremony — perhaps the oldest veteran present at the event.
After the event, Seaford said the welcome and the thanks he and fellow veterans received Monday “almost brought tears to my eyes.”
Seaford said he was gone from Kannapolis for the entirety of the war. “I volunteered and went in the day after they bombed Pearl Harbor, and I served until the war was over.”
Monday, Seaford said, seeing the young people who are taking part in JROTC filled him with hope. “They are the future generation,” Seaford said.
Carl Moore and his wife, Betty, also attended. Moore served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1947 as a seaplane tender.
Today, Moore said, at 89 years old, “we just thank God we’re here.”
He said they were pleased at the thought Kannapolis had put into organizing the event. “We have a wonderful city, really,” Moore said.
At Monday’s ceremony, Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant spoke of the hundreds of men from Kannapolis who served in World War II.
He also called on citizens to be mindful of over 1,700 names of service members from Kannapolis who have died in all of America’s wars — names engraved on a monument in Veterans Park, lit by an eternal flame.
For Monday’s ceremony, yellow flowers were placed at each of the tablets where those names are engraved.
Hinnant, himself, said he remembers the impact of war.
Growing up during the Vietnam War not far from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, “I saw ?rsthand the agony, the calamity, the disruption of life that takes place when someone is lost,” Hinnant said.
He called on those present to remember the sacrifices made by fallen service members and their families. “It is because of their actions that we live in a free country,” Hinnant said.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Quincy Collins, the afternoon’s keynote speaker, also spoke of the sacrifices of war.
Collins, a native of Concord, spent seven and a half years in a Hanoi prison after his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam.
He called on the audience to remember the unity of the United States during World War II, and how men and women came together to support their country against a common enemy.
“They came from every spot on our nations map, from the deserts of Arizona to the crowded streets of Harlem,” Collins said.
Collins recalled the almost instant transformation of Concord from a peacetime community onto a war footing, with air raid wardens, blackouts and drills.
When soldiers came to town, Collins said, “We showed them we cared, and we made them feel at home away from home.”
“We could see the newsreels showing us the devastation of war in places we had never even heard of,” Collins said. “… And then the telegrams started coming, with the words ‘We regret to inform you’ … and the pain of war began to spread and become a part of life.”
Collins also paid tribute to the women who served their country in industry, taking the place of men who were called into military service.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the sacrifices of all who served. Although people tend to idolize service members during times of conflict, Collins said, “when the con?icts become resolved, when emotions subside, so does the spotlight on the people who fought the battles.”
He challenged the audience to recall those times “when it was more important to be an American than to be a Republican or a Democrat.”
Also, during his remarks, Collins said that it was time for Americans to push for change in Washington, D.C. — for a return to honest dealing in government, instead of “cronies” who write laws that benefit themselves.
“I have concluded that still this time in our history, we have too many greedy and dishonest Democrats and Republicans and not enough loyal Americans representing us in Washington,” Collins said — remarks that drew loud applause and cheers from the audience.
As he concluded his remarks, Collins said, “Here is the axiom of our age, and I would love for you to remember this: To be born in freedom is an accident. To live in freedom is a struggle. But to die in freedom is an obligation.”
“Our World War II citizens have met that obligation, as have members of each generation since then,” Collins continued, “and our armed forces today are meeting that obligation, and we are so proud of them.”
Many young people were in attendance at the ceremony, a fact noted by many who were present.
For Damon and Amanda Hudgens, and their children, standing along the parade route was both a personal and a patriotic duty.
Damon’s father, Ronny Hudgens, served in Vietnam. Damon’s mother, Susan, said her husband doesn’t discuss it very much.
But in more recent years, Susan said, “it just means more to him. He has a love for his country and for his fellow man,” Susan Hudgens said.
Damon said the family was there to surprise his father, who was among the veterans marching in the parade. For his children, Ronny’s grandchildren, Damon said he wanted Memorial Day to be “something they can value” as they get older.
Kannapolis City Council member Dianne Berry and husband Cecil were in the audience as well, and she said the Memorial Day gathering is a tradition for them, also.
“My father was a veteran, and so was Cecil’s … I can remember when very few came,” Berry said, adding that she’s glad that things are different today.
“It’s something that’s going to go on to the next generation,” Berry said.
Julia Caudle, of Richfield, was there to honor her father, Harold Sechler, a 91-year-old Army veteran.
Caudle said that not only is it important to remember the fallen, but to remind ourselves of those who served.
Especially, Caudle said, World War II veterans who are passing away by the hundreds.
She said Monday’s special emphasis on the “Greatest Generation” was very timely. “If we’re going to honor them, we’d better do it now,” Caudle said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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