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General to fallen vets' families: 'This day is about you'

Fun neighborhood parades and somber cemetery services across North Carolina honored America's war dead this Memorial Day.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Fun neighborhood parades and somber cemetery services across North Carolina honored America's war dead this Memorial Day.

Fire engines, dogs riding on top of SUVs, children on bikes, high school musicians and local mascots Wool E. Bull, Sparky the Firedog and Mr. Wuf wound through the Summerfield North neighborhood in north Raleigh.

"This is quite spectacular. A neighborhood parade – it's just that sort of Americana that you just don't see that much anymore," Raleigh City Councilman Randy Stagner said.

More than 200 people helped throw the 19th community parade in the neighborhood off Strickland and Falls of Neuse roads.

Elsewhere, the commemorations of sacrifices by American soldiers were more stark.

White crosses and Stars of David representing fallen warriors dotted the grounds of the State Capitol in downtown Raleigh. 

"This day is about you," retired Marine Gen. David Heinz told the families and loved ones of dead veterans. "The grief that so many of you carry in your hearts is a grief that our nation can never fully know."

Veterans placed a wreath made of barbed wire at the Vietnam War memorial and sprinkled it with soil brought from Vietnam.

"Four of our members went to Vietnam a couple months ago and they came back with the soil," said veteran Bob Allen. "They put that at the statue to recognize and show appreciation for what was done at that time."

Allen said the soil was from Keh San, where retired Marine Walter Atkinson also served. On Monday, he was remembering the men who served alongside him.

"I remember a lot of my men. We were up at Keh San. I think about them quite a bit," Atkinson said. "This day means a lot. I wish those guys were here."

Retired aviator Cmdr. Tom Boehm wore his uniform with pride.

"Once you put it on, you never take it off," Boehm said. "It grounds me. It reminds me of who I am, what I've done, what I've accomplished and what I've served."

In the town that sits adjacent to one of the largest military installations in the country, hundreds gathered at Freedom Memorial Park in Fayetteville to say "thank you."

"This isn't national barbecue day," said Kristen German Ceri, whose husband is a Fort Bragg soldier.

"It was very much in our heart to be here, to honor our veterans and to say 'thank you' for all their service," said Roderick Tillery, the brother of a soldier.

Members of the Rolling Thunder held a special ceremony at Freedom Memorial Park to remember prisoners of war and those who went missing in action.

"People have forgotten about these guys. Their bodies are still over there," said Rolling Thunder member Chris Allen. 

Laurin Cooper said the holiday is all about the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for "the greatest country in the world."

"(We're out here) to celebrate and remember all those who fought to keep it that way," she said.

Cemeteries across the state also served as the sobering backdrop to Memorial Day services.

The Hillside High School Junior ROTC presented the colors during a ceremony honoring veterans among the 114 African Americans buried in the Historic Fitzgerald Family Cemetery. Visitors placed American flags and wreaths at veterans' graves, and speakers talked about the fallen soldiers' connections to Durham history.

The American Legion laid wreaths during its 81st Memorial Day service at the Raleigh National Service, and Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh hosted a service Monday afternoon.

"It means a lot to the people who went before us and the people who come after us," said Atkinson. "Our country doesn't realize what we have."

"Americans have the greatest gift that can be bestowed on man while they live on this earth: freedom," Heinz said.


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