Local News

N.C. services honor fallen troops

Posted May 25, 2009 12:39 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2009 12:42 p.m. EDT

— As the U.S. continues to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people from across North Carolina gathered Monday to honor troops who gave their lives in those wars and previous conflicts.

"I had a lot of brothers that didn't make it home. I came here to pay my respects," said Kenneth Peate, a Vietnam veteran who attended a Memorial Day service in Fayetteville's Freedom Memorial Park.

The ceremony culminated "31 Days of Glory," a month-long military tribute in Cumberland County, where Fort Bragg has seen hundreds of casualties in recent years.

Four troops based in North Carolina died last week. An explosion outside Baghdad killed Maj. Jason George, 1st Lt. Leevi Barnard and Sgt. Paul Brooks, members of the Fayetteville-based 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, while Chief Warrant Officer Brent Cole, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, died in Afghanistan when his helicopter went down.

"It's a heavy burden," retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Dordal said of military service. "Our families share it, and communities share in that burden."

Retired soldier Eusevio Torres has borne that burden for two generations.

"It bring tears to me that some of the soldiers that served with me are not here with me to share this day," said Torres, whose sons are serving overseas in the military.

"I wish they were here with me, but they have to do their duty to their country," he said.

In Raleigh, several hundred people attended a ceremony at the State Capitol that featured a bagpiper, a Marine Corps color guard and a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument honoring North Carolina veterans.

"I have no problem shedding tears. I don't care who sees me," veteran Bob Stempler said. "(Military personnel are) doing what their country is asking them to do, no questions asked.

"War is a terrible thing. It would be wonderful if there was no war," Stempler said, adding, "We don't start them, we finish them."

Michael Thomas, whose parents served in the Army, brought his son to the wreath-laying service to teach him about sacrifices made in wars.

"I don't think it ever loses its importance. It's more important now in terms of it being more immediate, especially with all the debates in politics about what we're doing with the wars," Thomas said. "It's important to step aside and think about what service really means."

Veteran William Schone said Memorial Day services always remind him of friends who didn't return home from combat.

"(The ceremony is) to indicate to somebody, 'Hey, we stood up so that maybe you or your children won't have to,'" Schone said. "It's not 'look at me.' It's 'look what we did for you.'"

In north Raleigh, the Summerfield North neighborhood held its 16th annual Memorial Day parade, and dozens of families took part in the event.

Gov. Beverly Perdue marked Memorial Day by speaking at the National Cemetery in New Bern. She also ordered that all North Carolina flags at state facilities be flown at half-staff and asked that residents and businesses lower their flags as well to honor those who have died defending the country.