LAURINBURG — As veterans throughout Scotland County were honored on Wednesday with free meals, applause, and reverential moments of silence, a U.S. Army Reserve command sergeant major issued a reminder that the rest of us reap the rewards of their service 365 days a year.
Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas, a Laurinburg native, was presented with a key to the city and a city pin by Mayor Tommy Parker during a Scotland County Veterans’ Council Veterans’ Day Ceremony attended by some 200 people at Legion Park.
A 1984 graduate of Scotland High School, Thomas now serves over 200,000 men and women in the U.S. Army Reserves. He compared the pledge made by all service members to their branch of the armed services to an open check for an amount up to, and including, their lives.
“That is beyond honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer remember that,” he said, labeling veterans as “twice the citizen” for their military service and for their service in the professions they enter after their discharge.
Thomas celebrated the resurgence of patriotism among youth throughout the country, and the promise it holds for the future of the United States.
“The best way to honor our veterans is to take an active part in maintaining freedom in America,” he said. “We must teach generations about what it means to be an American, we must volunteer in our communities, take care of veterans and their families, vote in elections, and continue to try to make America the very best that it can be.”
To put the contribution of military veterans in perspective, Thomas asked those present to consider what life might be like in a world where the United States had continued to splinter instead of waging the Civil War, or in a world where the Allies had lost World War II.
“Without the veterans of the Civil War, who fought on either side for what they believed in, the strong United States of America we know today might not be possible,” Thomas said. “Without fighting the war on terrorism, we’d be living in constant fear or under the control of Osama bin Laden, ISIS, or some tyrannical group.”
Veterans from every major conflict in the last 100 years were represented at the ceremony — Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans, Operation Desert Storm veterans, Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. That group included one World War II veteran: Al Liechliter, a resident of Laurinburg for 47 years.
Also during Wednesday’s ceremony, the Revs. Johnie W. Gorham of Shady Grove Baptist Church and Michael Malpass of New Hope Baptist Church offered prayers for veterans and active military personnel. Benita Mullis sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless the USA.”
A table set at the edge of the stage provided a sobering reminder of those veterans who did not return home — alive or dead.
“The table before you, a place of honor, is set for one,” said retired 1st Sgt. William Swift. “They are commonly called POW/MIA. We call them brothers. They are unable to be here with us this morning, so we will remember them.”
A white tablecloth, symbolizing the purity of the impulse to serve one’s country, draped across the table, with a single rose set out to recall the loved ones of those missing in action.
“Remember, all of you who served with them, called them comrade, depended upon their might and aid, relied upon them — for surely they have not forgotten you,” said Swift.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.