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Veterans who gave their lives commemorated in Memorial Day ceremony

By Samuel Motley

samuel.motley@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.2 million American veterans have given their lives for our freedom, Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins said Monday at the Memorial Day ceremony in the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex.

“We must not take for granted the sacrifices that have been made,” Heggins said.

The remembrance began at 10 a.m., perched above the backdrop of Salisbury National Cemetery annex on the campus of the Hefner VA Medical Center. This is estimated to be biggest veterans’ cemetery in North Carolina, with more than 8,000 headstones. Headstones on Monday were marked with an American flag.

Commemorating sacrifices made by veterans could not have been more ideal at this setting, said Mark Beaver, commander of the Rowan Veterans’ Council. The cemetery captures a lot of history, he said, adding that it has been home to the ceremony for roughly 20 years.

“Because of the sacrifices that veterans and their families made, we sit in this space today,” said Heggins, who herself served in the Army.

She remembered those who were lost in World War I and World War II. In the latter, there were 291,557 battle deaths and 113,842 other service deaths, she said.

And Heggins recalled those who died in more recent conflicts, including the War on Terror, in which 6,900 deaths have been recorded since September 11, 2001, she said.

“This government of the people, by the people, for the people has not perished in the United States of America” because of the veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, she said.

Heggins was one of four speakers during the ceremony. She was joined by Salisbury National Cemetery Director Steven Fezler, Salisbury VA Medical Center Director Joseph Vaughn and state Rep. Harry Warren.

“Memorial Day provides an especially important date in our nation’s annual calendar,” Fezler said. It is an opportunity “to express mourning and meaning,” he said, and “a time for remembering and respect.”

National cemeteries are living and dynamic places — shrines to the veterans — Fezler said

“For over 150 years, we set aside this day to remember service members” who lost their lives, he said.

“Every veteran has a story — one that deserves to be remembered,” he added.

And every person dies two deaths, Fezler said.

“The first is when the breath leaves us for the last time,” he explained. “The second comes sometime later when no one speaks their name or tells their story.”

Asking that those who died to preserve our freedom never be forgotten, Fezler made a challenge to those under age 16. Veterans’ stories need to be told, he said, to keep their sacrifice from being forgotten.

Ceremonies such as Monday’s leave an impression, Vaughn said in an interview with the Post. People coming through the doors at the V.A. Medical Center are true heroes, he said.

During his speech, Warren said Memorial Day is often associated with family gatherings. But Monday’s ceremony holds a deeper meaning, he added.

“Every grave marker here (at the Salisbury National Cemetery) represents many things,” Warren said. But “every one represents a hero.”

Warren said in an interview that it is wonderful to take the time to remember those who gave everything for what Americans have today.

And it was a prideful moment to see Monday’s turnout, Warren added.

Contact reporter Samuel Motley at 704-797-4264.

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