Local News

Living honor the fallen in Memorial Day ceremonies

Posted May 26, 2008 6:14 a.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2008 8:53 p.m. EDT

— Military members, their families and supporters laid wreaths and listened to the haunting strains of “Taps” at ceremonies honoring those who have died defending freedom.

At the State Capitol in Raleigh, a crowd gathered to honor war dead. At the state’s veterans memorial there, officials laid a wreath, and a 21-gun salute rattled the clear, sunny day.

Retired Marine Col. Vance Corbitt – a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam – said the pain from hearing "Taps" has eased in recent years.

"As you get older and realize you're on the verge of being one of them, it's more poignant," Corbitt said.

Retired Brig. Gen. George Wallace Jr., of Cary, spoke to honor the veterans of wars past and the importance of patriotism.

"I believe in what our country does, and I believe in the Armed Forces," Keith Brandy, a former Army draftee who lives in Raleigh, said.

Many of the hundreds of attendees read the inscription at the monument’s base: “As long as the flame of freedom burns, the memory of their sacrifice for peace shall endure.”

A bell tolled as the names of the 22 Fort Bragg-based men and women who died in Afghanistan and Iraq last year were read during a ceremony at the Army Special Operations Forces Plaza.

The service also honored the 80 special-forces members who have died in the War on Terror and 100 retired Green Berets who passed away in 2007.

"This is how we chose today to remember, not just my husband, but everybody today," said Kris Elizarraras, the widow of Master Sgt. Emigdio, who was killed in action at age 37 this past year.

Their 7-year-old son, Andrew, placed roses by the mall that bears the names of each Fort Bragg-based service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's hard, but it's something we'll do for the rest of our lives," Kris Elizarraras said.

Linda Hammons recalled attending church with Cpt. Benjamin Tiffner, 31, an Ohio native who died in Baghdad.

"You realize it was a man in his prime," Hammons said. "And he sacrificed family and career with the Special Forces."

Matthew Phiney, 8, came to Fort Bragg to watch the ashes of his grandfather, James J. Malia, be spread over a lake. Malia did five tours of duty in Vietnam as a Green Beret.

"Once, we went fishing. We caught fishes," Matthew said.

Gov. Mike Easley ordered all state flags to be flown at half-mast for the day and noted that more than 100,000 service members are stationed at Marine Corps, Army and Air Force bases in the state.

Sixteen North Carolinians have died in Afghanistan, and 97, in Iraq. More than 800 Tar Heel natives have also been wounded in Iraq.

Scott Walton said he has never been in uniform or known any killed in war –  but he and his wife wanted their four children to experience the meaning of Memorial Day.

"You see the honor, the commitment, sacrifice, the camaraderie we have in our military," Walton said.

His children appeared to be getting the lesson: "It's a lot different than you would learn if you just got it in the book," 12-year-old Lydia said.

"Memorial Day is about remembering the soldiers that died for us just to keep our country safe," 6-year-old Josiphiah said.

Eddie Jones, of Knightdale, said he believes children are never too young to learn about sacrifice and respect, so he hoped Raleigh's service would be "educational" for his 2-year-old son Zachary.

"If you grow up in a situation and everything in your life is nice and easy, we tend to think it was always that way," Jones said. "But the reality is someone had to sacrifice to make things the way they are today, and we owe those people a debt of gratitude."