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Focus on families at NC Memorial Day celebration

Posted May 30

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— On the day when America pauses to honor those who paid the price for our freedom, the focus at the North Carolina State Capitol was on the families they left behind.

Buglers played "Taps," a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," and a memorial wreath was presented by the Capitol City Young Marines to honor members of all branches of the American military in all conflicts around the world.

Monday marked the 24th Memorial Day on which the Tar Heel attachment of the Marine Corps sponsored the state's official ceremony.

"It is important that we don't mourn their loss but rather celebrate the lives and service of those who died defending our country," said Commandant John Dilday.

The guest of honor was Marine Lt. General Robert Ruark, who reminded those in attendance of the sacrifices made at home.

"Those who have lost family members on active duty, those who have lost family members killed in battle, I've always felt we owed you an irredeemable debt," he said.

It was a debt familiar to Fabienne Stephanoff, who grew up in France, the daughter of a WWII survivor who reminds her often how much he owed to the American soldiers who freed his country.

"He remembers the day the tanks arrived in his village and liberated his village from the Nazis, and they handed out all kinds of food to them," she said. "Even to this day, he still tears up, so any time I have a chance to say thanks I love doing it."

Stephanoff found a bond with Rondy Elliott of Durham, the daughter of a man killed in the Normandy invasion.

Elliott was wearing a picture of her father's white cross headstone at the American cemetery in Normandy, and Stephanoff asked her about it, sparking a conversation.

Before the main service, veterans of the Vietnam War got special recognition. This year marks 50 years after the official American military involvement in that country began.

The names of North Carolinians who died in Vietnam were read aloud.

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