Tears mix with rain at Memorial Day Service

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 30, 2023

SALISBURY — Even the heavens wept at the Memorial Day service at the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex on Monday morning.

The annual ceremony was the culmination of several events in recent days. On Friday, veterans gathered to raise the new flag at Bell Tower Green park, and on Saturday, despite more rain, volunteers from several groups gathered to place thousands of flags on the headstones at both the annex and the historic Salisbury National Cemetery. Among those involved were Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, local youth groups and members of the ROTC.

Those who gathered Monday braved rain that was steadily falling before the ceremony began, but when Memorial Day Ceremony Chairperson Queen Williams stepped up the microphone, Mother Nature paused.

“I know many people think of today as a day for picnics, but we are here to offer reverence for the sacrifices made,” said Williams, who thanked those in attendance for braving the weather.

Phillip Smyre, director of Salisbury National Cemetery, and Micah Lee, assistant director, both spoke briefly.

“I want to thank our staff who take care of things here day in and day out, and who treat it not just as a job but as an honor,” said Smyre. “It is our responsibility to give our nation’s heroes a best final resting place, and we are proud to do so.” He added that he believes the cemetery is a place of peace, and an everyday reminder of the sacrifices made, and the importance for the rest of us to live a life that honors those sacrifices.

Lee, who is himself a veteran, also thanked people for coming out in the rain for “the solemn remembrance of the immense debt we owe for the sacrifices made.”

Keynote speaker Tom Ruck is the author of the book “Sacred Ground: A Tribute to American’s Veterans,” which features the Salisbury National Cemetery on the cover. All royalties from the book go to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund.

“What I love about this book is that kids who have been dealt a traumatic blow by the loss of a parent while they were serving this great country of ours will know that America has not forgotten them or the sacrifice of their parent,” Ruck says. In planning the book, Ruck said it took three years for him to get permission to tackle the project before he was given a list of cemeteries he would be allowed, and requested, to include. The list included Salisbury’s two sites, and Ruck noted that his crew of volunteer photographers, in the end, captured 6,000 images, but the one of Salisbury was the most iconic.

“Wearing a uniform does not make you better, but it damn sure makes you different,” Ruck told the crowd. “To give one’s life for another, for one’s country, is the ultimate bravery. Where do our young people get that kind of bravery? For those who wear the uniform, duty, honor and country are not just words, but a way of life. Tears of joy and remembrance is how this day should always be. And we must remember not just the men and women in uniform, but their spouses, parents, children, families as well.”

Ruck is currently a senior advisor with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, combatting human trafficking. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He serves as a Visiting Fellow to the Freedom Alliance Foundation, is a member of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and the Newport Beach, California Post 291 Sons of the American Legion. He continues to travel the country honoring veterans, and has been a guest on more than 100 radio and television programs. The forward of the book was written by Bob Dole.

An impromptu appearance by John J. Melton, recently retired Womack Army Medical Center commander and now director of the Salisbury VA Health Care System, was announced by Williams. Melton reiterated his commitment to caring for all veterans.

Mayor Karen Alexander read a proclamation denoting Monday as Memorial Day, honoring the contributions of both veterans and their families, and she was joined in attendance by Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield.

A collection of patriotic musical selections were performed by the president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Unit 146, Landis, Martha Corriher, who also sang the National Anthem after Bob Bost, commander of the American Legion Post 112, Rockwell, led guests in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Williams called all Blue and Gold Star family members forward to place one wreath at the base of the flag before Charlie Frick and Dan Haddock of American Legion Post 342 of Salisbury presented the memorial wreath.

The Rowan County Honor Guard offered a salute before playing Taps, and there were few, if any, dry eyes on the site. Bernie Sahadi, president of the Rowan County Veterans Council offered his own thanks in closing for all who attended and honored the day and the veterans, and Jim Bean offered a closing prayer.