LAURINBURG — Veterans of conflicts from World War II to Operation Desert Storm began Veterans Day over a common meal at Bright Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church.
Some 60 veterans were served at the breakfast, sponsored by state Rep. Garland Pierce, having himself served in the U.S. Army, and Scotland County Sheriff Shep Jones. Of those veterans, one among them was recognized for his role as one of the first black American airmen — Jimmy Jones of Lumberton, one of a few hundred Tuskegee Airmen still living.
Initially drafted into the Army in 1946, a stroke of luck and words of wisdom from the drill sergeant meant that Jones lasted less than a day among the Army’s ranks. But his subsequent path sent Jones toward a permanent place in history.
“He stated that we might go overseas, we might come back, we might come back in one piece or we might come back in pieces,” Jones said. “So we were given the privilege to take a discharge from the United States Army and reenlist in the branch of our choice.”
After Air Force basic training in Texas, and training as a mechanic on B-32 and P-47 aircraft in Mississippi and Illinois, Jones found himself stationed in Ohio. During his three years in the Air Force, he also served at posts in Florida, South Carolina, and California.
Those surviving Tuskegee Airmen were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Jones received his last year. Though one of the oldest veterans at Monday’s breakfast, Jones was a decade younger than the oldest veteran present: 95-year-old World War II veteran Fred Breeden.
Now associate pastor at Mill Branch Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmont, Jones remembers his service as a contribution to “moving America to a different level.” He tells the story of Charles Anderson, the Tuskegee trainer who learned to fly against all odds, borrowing most of the money to purchase an airplane and teaching himself to fly despite the disdain of white pilots.
“We were always thought of and dealt with as second-class citizens,” said Jones. “White folks did not think that blacks even had the intellectual ability to comprehend anything that was going on in America or throughout the world… . That’s what segregation and prejudice really is: it’s the ignorance of those that do not know.”
For Vietnam veteran Andra McNeill, a native of Wagram, his enlistment in the Marines was also a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I was young and scheduled to go to college, but a friend of mine said he had joined the Marines so I said I’m joining too, much to the dismay of my mother,” McNeill said. “Joining the military was the adventure of my life.”
McNeill spent 13 months of his 15-year tenure with the Marines serving with a Combined Action Platoon in Vietnam, living in a small village protecting and providing basic medical care for the Vietnamese people. Though he made friends among the local population and among the South Vietnamese militia members he worked alongside, returning home was a relief.
“People don’t really appreciate America until they go somewhere else and come back home,” he said. “Regardless of what this country does, it’s still our home, and there’s no greater feeling than when you land and get off that plane and you see those stars and stripes flying.”
Partners in Ministry
The savory scent of bacon and eggs awaited a room full of veterans and their families at the Community Resource and Referral Center in honor of their dedication and service to their country.
The Partners in Ministry is a nonprofit organization that hosted its first Veteran’s Breakfast on Monday. The event lasted from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“Our veterans have done so much for our country,” said Kendall Chalmers, youth program coordinator for Partners in Ministry. “The least we can do is honor them.”
The breakfast began with a welcoming speech from Chalmers. The Scotland High School’s Imani Gospel Choir performed a song and afterwards the Rev. David Malloy stood and said a prayer over the food, the veterans and the ministry.
“It was a great idea to have something local to honor (veterans),” Dorothy Johnson, wife of army veteran James Johnson, said.
A hearty breakfast of eggs, grits, bacon, sausage, fruit, coffee, and other options were served by members of the ministry and the youth ministry. Shortly after everyone ate the guest speaker, Joseph Jacobs, warrant officer of the FMS Shop 10 in Red Springs, stood and spoke about being in ROTC when he was in high school, shared a few stories of when he was in training and what he learned from his military experiences.
After Jacobs’ speech Dr. Melba McCallum, founder and executive director of Partners in Ministry, said a few words to close out the event.
The youth ministry program of Partners in Ministry, consisting of youth from grades eight to 12, planned and organized the Veteran’s Breakfast within the last two months.
Donations and money raised from fundraisers were used to purchase the food as well as donations from local stores. Fundraisers included a haunted house, fall festival and donut sale as well as other projects.
McCallum said that Partners in Ministry gives the youth ministry opportunities to serve and take initiative in being more involved within the community. She said that it’s important for them to grow as individuals through mentoring, tutoring, serving and learn “what it’s like to become a leader.”
Partners in Ministry focuses on helping the community by offering center services such as computer classes, senior programs, GED classes in alignment with Richmond Community College and fitness programs. The ministry also has a food pantry to help those in need and offers assistance to repair the homes of the elderly, handicapped and disabled and offers other outreach programs to help the community.