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Local Gold Star family member plans Memorial Day remembrance service

SALISBURY — On a mission to improve awareness and appreciation of Memorial Day, Michael Chapman has ambitions to form a national organization that will increase education on the day’s importance across the country.

But first, he’ll start with a more local effort.

Chapman will host a Memorial Day remembrance and honor service at Happy’s Farm at noon on May 31. The event will feature guest speaker Rodney Cress, a recipient of a bronze star for valor for his service in the Vietnam War and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for veterans advocacy. Gold Star families, those who have lost a family member in action, will receive a complimentary lunch at Culver’s after the service.

Chapman has been an ardent advocate for Memorial Day awareness since his younger brother, Staff Sgt. Christopher Chapman, was killed in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Over the years, Chapman said, Americans have lost sight of what Memorial Day truly represents.

“Memorial Day is one of these holidays where nobody understands what it’s really about,” Chapman said. “They think it’s about honoring veterans. Businesses use it as a day to sell mattresses, a day to sell cars. In all those ads, you’ll see things like ‘Happy Memorial Day. We’d like to thank all the veterans who have served.’ That is not what Memorial Day is about.”

What Memorial Day is about, he said, is honoring people like his brother, who died while serving in the U.S. military.

The upcoming Memorial Day service Chapman organized is only the most recent way he’s tried to memorialize those who died in action. Five years ago, while working as a manager for Mattress Firm, Chapman took a different route when it to decorating the store’s windows for the holiday.

“I put up a memorial wall and invited any veterans or Gold Star family members or those who had friends or loved ones who died to put pictures of their loved ones,” Chapman said.

His display, he said, was recognized by the company as one of the best across the country.

A few years later, Chapman was also an integral part of North Carolina’s decision to create a traveling Persian Gulf War memorial. North Carolina used $100,000 gifted by Kuwait, who America liberated from Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, to create the exhibit. Chapman toured the panels at the Price of Freedom Museum in China Grove.

For years, Chapman said he’s been reaching out to state and national political leaders to gain support for the creation of an Honor Memorial Day Commission. The commission would work to educate members of the public, businesses and students about Memorial Day. 

The commission would serve a similar purpose to White House Commission on Remembrance, which was created in 2000 along with an act establishing a national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. However, Chapman said this new commission would succeed where he believes the other failed.

“It didn’t get out into the rural communities, it didn’t get everything accomplished that it needed to,” Chapman said. “It didn’t work. It didn’t run like a substantial business to get out there and do what it needed to do. It stayed in the confines of the Washington, D.C. area.

Thus far, Chapman said he’s gained little traction for his commission while talking to North Carolina’s senators and members of congress.

Chapman’s conversations with representatives from U.S. Rep. Ted Budd’s office appears to have yielded some movement. Budd plans on introducing a resolution next week highlighting the true purpose of Memorial Day, as well as the fallen servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in battle.

As he continues to work toward his goal of establishing the commission, Chapman said he will continue to memorialize those who died while in the military. Chapman’s Memorial Day service will be held at noon at Happy Farm’s located at 985 Parks Road in Salisbury. Chapman asks that attendees register by calling 704-856-0025 or by emailing DiedInService@gmail.com.

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