By Marsha M. Brown
Last Saturday, November 3rd was a night that many Dare County veterans will remember for a long time. If you missed it, you really missed a blessing.
Months ago and right up to the final countdown before the start of the second annual “A Salute to Veterans” event, everyone involved was excited. The ‘Salute’ had expanded well beyond patriotic music and memorable speeches…this year was nothing short of awesome!
While folks were still being seated, I was greeted in the aisle by a nice gentleman who asked me if I was “Marsha” and if I wrote GIG LINE. I said, “Yes sir”. He said “Well, the reason I’m here tonight is because I read GIG LINE every week!” I thanked him for that because he said he looked forward to it each Sunday. That nice veteran, Mr. Brian Kelly, is the American Legion Fort Raleigh Post 26 Adjutant. He made me happy and he was one of my first special memories of the night.
“A “Salute to Veterans” program opened promptly at 7 PM. Pastor Steve Smith of Manteo First Assembly, gave a warm welcome to all and he thanked the veterans for their commitment to our country. He also acknowledged that his Daddy is a U. S. Air Force Vietnam veteran. On stage each branch of service was represented including the U. S. Marine Corp by Marine Corp League Commandant Dean “Doc” Tyler.
I sat in the middle section of the church not far from the front. My handsome husband Billy held my hand and all around us were veteran friends: Rowland, Joe, Ted, Roger, Charlie C. & Charlie M., Bob and countless others…lady veterans too! Surrounded by those who had served, I considered how fortunate we all were to have our veteran loved ones there to celebrate. I was happy to look at the pride in their faces feeling how much we loved and respected them. My cousin Edward Lee came too just as he had promised, a U. S. Coast Guard veteran himself…I was tickled and I was proud! I wondered who the event touched more…our veterans, the ones who love our veterans or all of the participants who worked week after week practicing their part to make sure it was just right for our heroes.
Minutes later Preacher Steve introduced our home town Emcee, Moncie “Punk” Daniels, U. S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Retired). ‘Punk’ as we know him best, greeted everyone before asking us to stand for the Posting of our nation’s Colors by the U. S. Coast Guard – Oregon Inlet. During those moments, we witnessed a ceremony that we’ve seen many times before; but never enough. Our most predominant military influence in Dare County proudly carried and posted our flags, then saluted and turned in perfect unison.
Together we all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance followed by our National Anthem. ‘Punk’ then asked everyone who had served in the United States Military to stand when ‘their’ branch song was played. All over the church, they took to their feet, branch by branch. As I looked around the sanctuary, I could see them anxiously waiting their turn…they were eager to stand with their fellow comrades…they wanted to be counted…they were very proud Americans.
‘Punk’ introduced SFC Darrick McGee, U. S. Army who performed the Thirteen Folds of our nation’s flag ceremony. He was accompanied by Petty Officer James Thompson, U. S. Navy – both gentlemen of perspective Recruiting Offices, Elizabeth City. Have you ever listened to the words? The verbiage is clear…it’s about faith…the beautiful composition seems without question inspired by God.
Becky Smith, Pastor’s wife, stepped to the center and sang like an angel. “I Will Remember You” filled the church while visuals of Arlington Cemetery, military funerals and celebrations of veterans lives were displayed on the large twin screens over head. It was beautiful. The words and music of the song was very fitting and the touching pictures resonated true human sacrifice for freedom.
SGT McGee again took center stage this time to perform the very special P.O.W. & M.I.A. Ceremony. He explained the meaning of the white covered table before him; it was embellished with a hat for each of the five military branches. In the middle of the table was a clear vase with a single red rose, close by – a slice of lemon; a bit of salt and dinner plate accompanied by a single tumbler turned upside down. The significance was in remembrance of those still Missing in Action or still captive as Prisoners of War. The ceremony…well, there are no words to adequately express its relevance…its example of the emptiness that fathers, mothers, husbands, wives and children have felt for those they love and miss and may never see again.
From the back of the church, the lights are dim and suddenly you heard the haunting sounds of bagpipes. Robert J. White, U. S. Army (Ret.) Vietnam Green Beret and 21 year decorated veteran entered playing “Amazing Grace”. To say it was moving is an understatement. It was breathtaking. He made his way to the front of the church, stepped up onto the stage continuing to play in his full Scottish Military attire, playing still as he made his way back down the stairs and back up the aisle to leave the sanctuary. You had to be there…and if you weren’t…there are no words.
Betty Jo Shepheard, U. S. Sen. Richard Burr’s Eastern Regional Field Representative, was expected to read a letter that Sen. Burr had written specifically to Dare County veterans, however, she was unable to attend due to emergency hospitalization of a family member that afternoon of the event. In her absence, Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Warren Judge graciously took the helm and conveyed Sen. Burr’s respect, gratitude and well wishes for Dare County veterans and their families. His warm greeting and personal message meant a lot to everyone there.
On a light note and in honor of the WWII veterans, our Andrews Sisters…all three of them, robustly sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”. Each donned a 1940’s olive drab costume from head to toe and when Terry Reynolds, Cindy Arendts and Karen Stanberry sang, it was a blast from the past and e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y loved it! There was clapping, cheering and whistling as the three women with great voices conjured happy memories of a time in the lives of many. It was good to remember the music that made our WWII vets smile. It reminded us too of a time that our nation will never forget. The girls had the performance ‘down pat’, that’s for sure. They were happy to celebrate a special song with special men and women!
Commissioner Judge took center stage again, speaking about veterans and our Veterans Advisory Council (formed in May). He stressed the pride our County feels toward our veterans. He also introduced Rhonda Creef – our Veterans Service Officer. His meaningful comments were not only appropriate for the occasion but embraced and very much appreciated by all.
Chairman Judge then introduced the first appointed Chairman of the Veterans Advisory Council, Clarence Skinner. Clarence, a U. S. Air Force Major (Ret.) and former Dare County Commissioner, who is a very dedicated veteran devoted to ‘bring the best to the best’…our County veterans and their families. Clarence read a Council statement and introduced Council members, starting with ‘Punk’ Co-Chairman; myself as Secretary; Joe Pope, Frank “Dale” Draper, Pete Groom (unable to attend due to transportation obstacles/ferry schedules from his residence in Avon) and Clarence Lewis, U. S. Army SFC (Ret.), the Commander of American Legion Fort Raleigh Post 26.
Mr. Lewis approached the podium enthusiastically greeting everyone and quickly inviting veterans in Dare County who were not already members to join the Legion. He graciously encouraged new membership and the need for the Legion to grow. It was obvious that Clarence was proud to serve as Commander and he let it be known that he has goals for the Post he commands. He reminded everyone that the Legion meetings take place every fourth Tuesday at noon in Kill Devil Hills on Lake Dr. (Turn at T-Tops, Fort Raleigh Post 26 will be on the right, see American Legion sign).
Like many veterans whose uniforms no longer fit, my sweetie pie Billy wore his American Legion hat. The hat or ‘cover’ is an immediate reminder to all of us that all who wear it has served our country. Billy enjoys his membership in the American Legion. Selective of where he spends his time, he looks forward to the camaraderie of the monthly get together. Spending time with other veterans who have served around the world and here at home means a lot to him and he’s proud to be a member. (Please note there is also an American Legion Woman’s Auxiliary here too).
Following Clarence Lewis, Wendy Hemilright (the wife of a Vietnam veteran) sung from her heart, “God Bless the Soldier”. If you’ve never heard it, you should have been there that night. Wendy captured the essence of the song which tells of someone seeing a soldier; first a male, then a female and the respect they are due from us, bystanders of their sacrifice. She did a beautiful job and everyone liked her rendition…a lot. The tune had a little country ‘twang’ to it and along with the other musical renditions; it rounded out the night…just right.
‘Punk’ again stepped to the microphone introducing Master Bagpiper, Robert White. This time, Robert entered the sanctuary playing “The Green Beret Song” on bagpipes. Having changed his clothes, this time he donned his U. S. Military bagpipe uniform. Once he reached the pulpit and finished playing his golden tones, he addressed the audience reflecting on his military career of 21 years and his service in Vietnam. He spoke of a mothers love for their sons and daughters who go into war, not knowing if they’ll ever see them again. He spoke of the hardships, malaria and fevers that many soldiers contracted in Vietnam and he shared that his brother, who also served in Vietnam, had passed away from Agent Orange not long ago. Mr. White said that even though he had been out of the service for years now, that if he was called upon again, he “would be right there” and that “he’d do it all over again”. In his closing remarks, he said there were two things that had brought him home…”the first was our Lord Jesus Christ” and the other was his “family”. Everybody liked Robert White because he’s a nice, down to earth man. He loved serving our country in the U. S. Army and he loves what he does now playing for military, law enforcement and fire fighter tributes and celebrations. He’s the ‘real deal’ for sure, but then again…each and every veteran there that night was the ‘real deal’…without exception.
Our program nearing its end was fired up again. A brief skit written by Pastor Mary Ann Sherwood told the story of a soldier (played by her real life husband Jason) who proposed to his girlfriend just before deployment only to be later determined as “M.I.A.” Approached by a news lady, played by Karen Stanberry, the heartsick ‘bride to be’ was interviewed about her situation and her memories of her military family of three generations. Recalling happy times with her Daddy at veteran parades when she was a little girl, she remembered fireworks, music, dance and patriotic displays that were recalled by media, special effects and sound all around us during our event that night.
The creative works of Head Leader Cindy Arendts and Team Leader & Choreographer Elizabeth DeHart surprised everyone with a big, whopping grand finale’ literally to ‘beat the band’! Cindy and Sarah Smith performed “America the Beautiful” in sign language…it was graceful and touching. An array of patriotic songs filled the large 300 seat ground floor of the church and girls numbering ten came in to perform a production that the word ‘impressive’ falls short of. Wearing red tops with red glittery back waist bands, ‘F.I.S.H. Stix’ gave the veterans a celebratory summation of glory and grandeur…and even beyond that, they actually demonstrated “…from the mountains…to the prairies…to the oceans white with foam…God bless America, my home sweet home”…you had to be there…it was phenomenal!
‘Punk’ thanked everyone for coming and for honoring our veterans. He had already asked us all to notice and remember the veterans who were there from that night forward. Inviting all to meet in the Fellowship Hall of the church for light refreshments, he quietly ended and the Colors were removed. When silence fell, Robert White, on his bugle, played TAPS and the program was complete.
Again, and again, the night had brought the audience joy, our veterans pride and our country honor. As I made my way to the Fellowship Hall, I was stopped repeatedly with hugs, expressions of gratitude, compliments about the program overall, of gratefulness for everyone who had taken part and references to GIG LINE too. I saw lots of smiles on our veteran’s faces and felt the smiles from their souls. It was a wonderful night.
Billy and I on behalf of all of our veterans thank everyone who helped, prepared and served food, made flyers, took pictures, acted, sang or performed for this memorable event. Oh what a night!! Thank you all!
Remember to look for a special presentation on TV – PBS Sunday night at 8 PM celebrating Veteran’s Day. Thank you for reading GIG LINE. Until next time, be happy, be safe and be proud…and thank a veteran.