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Honoring those lost: Avery County remembers fallen, dedicates monument

By Matt Debnam, Avery Journal-Times

For many Americans, Memorial Day is a time to take a long weekend and get away from it all; a time of barbecues, beach trips and door-buster sales which signal the approach of summer.

Yet for those gathered in the Newland Town Square on May 30, it was clear that the true meaning of Memorial Day is far from forgotten. Hundreds of community members, veterans and civilians joined together to honor members of the Armed Forces who laid down their lives in the line of duty.

Following a welcome from master of ceremonies Phillip Greene, U.S. Army Veteran Craig Clark delivered an invocation during which he prayed that “we never forget the sacrifice we honor today.”

The Avery County High School JROTC then marched sharply before the crowd, bearing the flags of the United States and the state of North Carolina. Once the cadets had posted the colors, members of the ACHS Band and Chorus joined in singing and playing the national anthem.

Kevin Holden, commander of VFW Pat Ray Post 4286, then proceeded to honor Creedy Cuthbertson and Jim Love with awards for their dedicated service to Post 4286 and Avery County veterans. Holden himself was then honored as a Distinguished Post Commander. Holden then presented the Inaugural Robert C. Wiseman Distinguished Patriot Award. The award will henceforth be given to someone who offers patriotic service to the veterans community. This year’s recipient was Robert Wiseman himself.

The next speaker was Colton Overcash, who appeared on behalf of U.S. Sen. Tom Tillis. Tillis sent along a letter expressing his appreciation for those who had sacrificed their lives for freedom. Overcash was followed by Avery County’s U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.

“It is fitting to not only remember those who died giving their lives for us so that we can remain free, but also those who have served and are still with us,” Foxx said. “It is so important in our country that we support those willing to serve to keep us free. We can always maintain our freedom if we honor those who are willing to serve and those willing to give the last measure of sacrifice.”

Avery County Commission Chair Martha Hicks was next to speak, offering words of dedication for the new Avery County Veterans Monument. Hicks had served as the chair of the monument committee, alongside Commissioner Reo Griffith, County Manager Tim Greene, Veterans Services Officer Georgia Henry, Holden with the VFW, Mike Halus with Disabled American Veterans and Dawn Carpenter. Greene thanked each of them by name as he spoke and also extended appreciation to Gaulden Monuments, who constructed the monument and designed the landscaping.

The ceremony continued as members of the VFW raised the American flag over the monument. The ACHS band played the Armed Services Medley, which includes the songs of each branch of service. As a branch’s theme was played, the flag of that service was raised.

The ceremony was followed by remarks from guest speaker Doug Blevins, Senior Vice Commander of the North Carolina Veterans of Foreign Wars. Blevins shared the history of Memorial Day with the crowd, encouraging them to never forget those who had died in defense of the United States. Initially known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began in 1868, when former Union troops denoted May 30 as a day to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.

“Since 1775 until today, 1,354,664 of our veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice and there are still 44,000 missing in action,” Blevins said. “There is no other nation on earth whose sacrifice has been greater than ours. Nowhere in the annals of history has there been a country who has given so much to afford the freedom of others.”

“We are a nation whose freedom has been secured by our veterans,” Blevins continued. “Today we recall their loss. They had names. They had families. They were our brothers, sisters, moms, dads and children. The day they died, they lost two lives instead of one: the life that they would have had, and the life they were living.”

Blevins’ remarks were followed by a ceremonial presentation of wreaths honoring the dead, a 21-gun salute from the Post 4286 Honor Guard and a performance of “Taps” by Jacob Daniels of the ACHS band. Following a benediction, the colors were retired and the crowd was dismissed, yet many lingered and looked upon the white names etched in black granite on the surface of the monument.

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