The American Legion Post 108 of Franklin hosted its annual Memorial Day Service on Monday, May 27. Hundreds of people came to honor the nation’s veterans at the Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Scottie Thomas, Commander of American Legion Post 108, opened the ceremony and introduced Tom Fisher, director of Men Macon Music, to say a few words before the presentation of the colors. Men Macon Music sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” during the presentation, followed by a prayer led by Rev. Steve Reeves.
Thomas then led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and, afterwards, Fisher invited everyone to sing along to “America the Beautiful” with the Men Macon Music.
The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) followed with a presentation of the colors, including a first continental army battle flag, more commonly known as a Betsy Ross flag.
Dressed in his ancestor’s blue uniform, Tom Long, president of the Silas McDowell Chapter of the North Carolina Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NCSSAR), spoke about the mission of the SAR and our nation’s war history.
“As we gather today to honor our country’s war dead, let us remember those brave patriots who picked up a gun and followed Washington to establish our country over a period of 13 years, 9 1/2 months. God bless America,” said Long at the end of his speech.
Thomas returned to the podium to share a letter written by Marine Sgt, William C. Stacey, 23, of Redding, Calif., who died in Afghanistan on Jan. 31, 2012. Stacey was on his fourth deployment.
“‘My death did not change the world’ Sgt. Stacey wrote, ‘it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all, but there is a greater meaning to it. Perhaps I did not change the world, but there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his. And a child will learn in the new schools that have been built; he will walk in the streets, not worried about whether his leaders henchmen will come kidnap him; he will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart desires; he will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was worth it all,’” read Thomas.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would argue that the sacrifice made by Sgt. Stacey and countless other American heroes have indeed changed the world,” said Thomas. “Americans must remember that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it is only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its high price.”
Dennis Curry, commander of Franklin’s Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7339, Frank Cucumber, of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and Tom Mintz, of Franklin’s Marine Corps League Smoky Mountain Detachment 973, all spoke about the sacrifices of American veterans and the importance of the Memorial Day holiday.
Chair of the Veteran’s Memorial Committee, Neil Riendeau, then spoke about Franklin’s Veteran’s Memorial Park and how anyone who wants to honor a veteran can get involved by purchasing a brick for the project.
The ceremony’s guest speaker, Gary Shields, was introduced next. Shields, a Macon County native who joined the army after graduating from high school, served two tours of duty with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam and was the recipient of two purple hearts, among many other awards. He spent 37 years as an educator, 29 of which were in the Macon County school system. The last 21 years of his career were spent as the principal of Franklin High School. An active member of the community, Shields is a member of several organizations and serves on numerous boards and committees, including the American Legion, the Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees, and many more.
He spoke about the evolution of Memorial Day and his personal discovery of its meaning, as well as the lack of awareness surrounding the holiday’s purpose. “I have worked through the name changes and date changes, but what stood out was that Memorial Day’s real meaning may be lost by marketing schemes promoting the day as a time for celebrating the beginning of summer, a long weekend, a picnic, a sporting event or a sale celebration,” said Shields. “We are here to remember our fellow veterans who gave their all.”
Shields went on to outline what Memorial Day meant to him by breaking down each letter in the holiday’s title.
“The ‘M’ in Memorial stands for the million plus men and women who have died for our country since the Revolutionary War... the ‘E’ stands for eternity... many of you veterans have seen death and over time have come to terms with ‘there is no coming back’... the second ‘M’ stands for minority.
We all have our cultural experiences and the military allowed many of us to evolve beyond color barriers when viewing another of a different race. On this date we need to remind ourselves that ‘people of color’ and the women veterans also gave their lives for the many freedoms we enjoy today... the ‘O’ stands for one... I still feel proud as a citizen and veteran that we still salute one flag, have one national anthem, one national bird, and we’re one United States with all our different beliefs and opinions,” said Shields.
“The ‘R’ in Memorial stands for rights... the ‘I’ stands for independence” said Shields, referring to the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. “The ‘A’ stands for all ... let us remember all gave some, some gave all ... the ‘L’ stands for love ... the love of God, your fellow man, country, our heritage, sacrifices of our citizens, and most of all our men and women veterans, past, present and future, should never be forgotten ... the ‘D’ in Day stands for death. We are here today in remembrance of the men and women who served and died for our freedoms ... the ‘A’ stands for American ... I am proud to be an American ... the ‘Y’ stands for yesterday. Time fleets us. One cannot call back yesterday. Yesterday is the opportune time for learning for today and tomorrow.”
“Instead of us screaming in the dark, let the living today light a candle; for it is up to us to not let our men and women veterans to have died in vain. God bless the USA,” said Shields at the end of his speech. The ceremony closed with a three-volley salute by the Honor Guard, a playing of “Taps,” a wreath presentation for fallen veterans by the auxiliaries, the singing of the National Anthem and the raising of the flags to full mast as Men Macon Music performed “Marching with the Heroes.”
After the ceremony, everyone was invited to attend a free barbecue lunch at the American Legion.