By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke’s State Rep. Garland Pierce knows what it’s like to fight for the United States, and what it’s like to lose a loved one in that fight.
Pierce, a veteran himself, marked Memorial Day by reading to a crowd gathered on the Hoke Court House lawn, a letter he and his family have kept close to their hearts for more than 50 years. In March 1969, Corp. Hugh R. McKinney was honored with the Bronze Star for his heroism. McKinney was killed in action while serving in Vietnam when his helicopter crashed, killing all aboard.
“This was my cousin, like a brother,” Pierce said, as he read the letter.
“So many of these letters are in homes of wives, mothers and fathers, these same type letters, and I keep it because it reminds me of the sacrifice that my family member played, like your family members also.”
The personal moment was part of many that honored and remembered veterans at the annual Memorial Day service, organized by local veterans’ organizations. The service was conducted at the war memorial outside the Hoke County Courthouse on Main Street. Pierce served as the guest speaker for the ceremony.
Memorial Day is about far more than the start of summer, barbecues and beach fun, which it’s come to represent to some, Pierce said. For military families and veterans, it’s about remembering and honoring their loved ones who fought and died serving their country.
“To many of us gathered today, this day is personal in so many ways. Many of us have lost loved ones. These names are numerous in so many locations in Hoke County, graves in Hoke County. I helped put out flags the other day and (I’m) just amazed at the number of veterans who served the United States,” Pierce said.
Memorial Day continues to hold great meaning as today service members in the Armed Forces also put their lives on the line.
“We still have American men and women fighting and dying for our freedoms. Memorial Day was established 1868 to pay tribute to individuals who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. These men and women pledge to uphold and protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Pierce said. “Those who served in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps have been willing to lay their life on the line to keep this nation great and free. We can never forget the importance of the oath and their sacrifice. This holiday is a time to reflect on those who have lost their lives in the line of duty, to give tribute to their selfless spirit.”
Pierce also read the poem “Freedom is Not Free,” written by Helen Strong, and offered words from past Memorial Day services conducted by John F. Kennedy Jr. and Bill Clinton. The representative additionally announced that with the recent passing of a bill, soon all state building in North Carolina will not only fly an American flag, they will also fly a prisoner of war (POW) and missing in action (MIA) flag to remember those service members who did not make it home.
The ceremony featured a wreath laying with wreaths presented by the city and county local governments and veterans’ organizations. The Boy Scouts helped present the wreaths and offered a salute during the presentation.
The service also included a three-volley gun salute and TAPS performed on trumpet. Pierce, who is minister of a church in Wagram, offered prayers. George Balch served as master of ceremonies for the service. Music for the program included a sing-along of “God Bless America.” About 40 people attended the service.
Parade honors veterans
The Memorial Day ceremony was the second event held in downtown Raeford this weekend to honor veterans. The Downtown Raeford Business Association (DRBA) recognized over two dozen Raeford and Hoke County veterans, including those living and those deceased, with a parade Friday evening.
The parade featured a skydiver flying in a flag to start the event, and a fly-by from the jump plane which trailed red, white and blue smoke over downtown Raeford. Living veterans and family members of deceased veterans rode in decorated vehicles down Main Street to cheers and applause from people lined up on both sides.
The veterans and family members of deceased veterans received a banner with their picture and name on it. The same banners are currently up on display on the lights along Main Street in Raeford.
The DRBA plans to choose more veteran honorees for next year’s event in 2022. For 2021, the DRBA recognized Alex Schwarchbher, Vietnam veteran; Brendila Leslie Sanders; Carl Anthony Pevia, Operation Provide Comfort; Carla W. Johnson, Gulf War; Colin Robert Rich, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan; Donna Johnson, Iraq and Afghanistan; Gene Paul Thacker, Korean War and Vietnam; Glen Allen Young Sr., Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; James Edward Roberts, Vietnam, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; James Michael Ray, Panama Invasion and Operation Desert Storm; Joe H. Lowery Jr., Iraq War; Kimberly Lee Rulli, Operation Enduring Freedom; Kirk Lowery, Operation Desert Storm; Mario Rivera Jr., Panama Operation Just Cause and Operation Enduring Freedom; Mike Elliot, Persian Gulf War; Patrick Powell, Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Desert Eagle, Gulf War, Libyan Civil War and Liberation of Kuwait; Stanley Edward Blitz III, Operation Enduring Freedom; Stephon Johnson, Gulf – Iraqi Freedom; Thomas McMillan Jr., Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom; Timothy Armond Ford, Global War on Terrorism; Wendell S. Young, World War II; and Wilbur Truby Dunlap, Vietnam.