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Girl Scout’s project brings Concordia Lutheran congregation together to honor its military veterans

CHINA GROVE — Led by an ROTC color guard from South Rowan High School, the congregation at Concordia Lutheran Church walked out the red doors of the church Sunday and moved toward the cemetery.

There, after a raising of the U.S. flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, scripture readings and prayers for those now serving in the military and the veterans who fought for their country in the past, 14-year-old Girl Scout Reagan Waller took the microphone.

Behind her were two 6-foot-4-inch-tall monuments covered in cloth. They stood in front of three new flagpoles and seven recently planted bushes and at the end of a freshly laid sidewalk.

Generous mounds of mulch helped define the new landscaping.

“For all our veterans, regardless of their service and the era in which they have served, they have paid the price time and time again,” Reagan told the large crowd.

“They have defended America through both the best and worst of times, and they have performed their duties tirelessly, with little recognition or fanfare. We dedicate this site to tall our Concordia veterans.”

With that, Girl Scouts Lana Bryant and Rylie Williams helped Army veterans Ron Mullis and Dwayne Klitzsch take off the covers to reveal two black granite markers.

On one of the monuments were 90 names of Concordia Lutheran military veterans, as far back as the Civil War, who have died. No names were on the other marker.

On future Veterans Day Sundays, Reagan explained later, the names of Concordia Lutheran military veterans who have died over the previous year can be added to the blank monument.

Reagan’s father, Derek, her two grandfathers and a great-grandfather all served in the military. Her great-grandfather, Ortis Lee Karriker Jr., is one of the 90 names on the memorial. He was a World War II veteran.

“The idea for this monument came as a way to honor them and all the veterans of this church,” Reagan said. “Since World War I, more than 645,000 men and women have died defending our freedom.

“These numbers are deeply personal for veterans and their loved ones. We can never forget their sacrifices.”

Reagan said she hopes that everyone who visits the memorial in the future “will remember and be grateful for every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman who defended and protected our nation.”

The Concordia Veterans Monument and the blank one on which names will be engraved in the years to come are the results of Reagan’s Silver Award project in Girl Scouts, to which she has belonged for 10 years as part of Concordia Troop 1938.

When it was all said and done, church members and veterans’ families contributed nearly $10,000 to make it happen. She was helped considerably by family and members of the congregation, including Jason Ritchie.

To earn the Silver Award, a Girl Scout must have an adult as a mentor. Ritchie served as her mentor, but he also graded and otherwise prepared the site for the monument.

Among others helping on the project were Omar Williams, William Morrison, Charles Starnes, Eddie Starnes, Greg Ritchie, Tim Beaver, Ralph Dixon, Mark Smith, Melvin McAlister, Jerry Beaver and Sheri Foster.

Ritchie shrugged off his contribution on the site preparation. “She did the mental, I did the physical,” he said.

“There are so many people who helped,” Reagan added. “There’s just no way to say all of them.”

In going after her Silver Award, the Girl Scout is not allowed to solicit money. That can only be done by an adult mentor, such as Ritchie, who co-chairs the cemetery committee with Foster.

Reagan’s idea took shape in January. She approached the church council with the proposal in February and at the time had just a small, $2,500 marker in mind.

Church officials wanted to go bigger and better.

“It’s a shame we haven’t done this before now,” Ritchie said Sunday, “because there are a lot of names.”

The church already had a list of its military veterans, and Reagan’s grandmother Judy Haire helped get those names together.

But Reagan knew she had to be accurate, especially before etching any names onto a permanent granite marker. She wrote letters to church families and to former members whose relatives are buried at Concordia to explain what she was doing and to confirm their veterans’ names and other information.

Amy Waller, Reagan’s mom and a troop leader with Dawn Williams, said her daughter probably had 80 hours invested in those letters, which included forms to send back. But the correspondence also helped the project financially, though Reagan did not solicit directly.

“Then, the money started rolling in with the families,” Amy Waller said.

Kenneth Bost,who grew up in the Concordia congregation, and his wife, Anne, traveled from Eden for the dedication ceremony. Kenneth’s dad’s name, Grady Emanuel Bost, is on the new memorial.

Grady was a World War II veteran.

“We decided this was very important,” Kenneth Bost said, expressing appreciation for what Reagan and the Concordia congregation did. “This is still our home church.”

Veterans and current military personnel connected to Concordia Lutheran participated in the dedication ceremony.

Scripture passages were read by veterans Bill Waller and Stuart Hasty, along with current Air National Guardsman Bobby Onesios. Navy veteran Philip Duncan and Marine Jay Ernst raised the U.S. flag.

The congregation has two surviving World War II veterans — Hoke Karriker and Paul Camobell — and the 97-year-old Karriker attended Sunday’s dedication.

Eric McLaughlin, who is currently stationed in Virginia with the Navy, led the Pledge of Allegiance and helped with prayers, along with Air Force veteran Dale Karriker and Army veteran Ben Fesperman.

But the star of the day was Reagan Waller.

“I think it’s awesome,” Ritchie said of what Reagan accomplished. “The sky’s the limit for that child. … She ought to hold that head high.”

Ritchie said he was thrilled that Reagan will be able to look back years from now and realize what it meant for the congregation and community to come together like this on her project, which will still be here.

“Today,” he said, “this doesn’t hit. She’s just too young.”

Reagan acknowledged she was surprised how her Silver Award project grew into something much bigger for her church.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” she said after the dedication amid all the hugs, pats, handshakes and thank-yous she received. “I was not expecting this many people.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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