What is always a reverential and special occasion took on extra meaning Monday when the Scotland County American Legion Post 50 officially opened its Veterans Memorial Garden following the group’s normal Veteran’s Day ceremony.
About a year in the making, Post 50 member and garden organizer Dewey Pittman said that the garden was designed without the help of an architect and built largely by veterans like those it was made to honor.
Just before the ribbon was cut to open the park, Post 50 Commander Dan Skamperle spoke of how the garden is another gift from Post 50 to the public.
“This garden, just as Legion Park (sports field), belongs to the community. This is your garden and this gate will never be locked. You can come here any time, 24 hours a day,” Skamperle said.
“You are always welcome over here, these are our soldiers, our heroes,” said Skamperle, pointing to the names on the memorial bricks that make up the 10 walls of the garden.
According to Pittman, the garden idea started with a drawing that included only four walls. As interest grew, the project swelled to include nearly 900 bricks.
“And we are still taking applications,” Pittman said. Bricks can still be dedicated at a cost of $50 per brick.
Following the dedication, which saw hundreds crowd around the picket garden fence, men and women like World War II Army veteran Warren G. Evans walked to the wall to find their names or the names of loved ones.
Prior to the dedication, locals gathered at nearby Legion Park to honor veterans during Post 50’s annual program.
“We have a lot of pride in our veterans,” said Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker. “We want to continue to be a military friendly town going forward.”
The featured speaker for the ceremony was retired Army Chaplain Col. John Cottingham.
The 30 year veteran offered a history lesson to the assembly, reminding them that without the men and women of the armed forces our national identity and our freedoms would not exist as we know them.
“(Veterans) give concrete meaning to our national values,” Cottingham said. “And that has come at a terrible cost.”
Cottingham also offered some advice for those encountering returning veterans today.
“Our current warriors are serving in America’s longest war … (And when they return) they simply want to get on with their lives,” Cottingham said.
A stirring rendition of the song “The American Soldier” by local Stuart Carmichael roused many in attendance and the service concluded with a word of prayer by Rev. Terence Williams and a 21 gun salute from the Post 181 ritual team.
A veteran himself, Williams reminded those listening of the importance of prayer.
“When I was serving I would oftentimes find myself praying that someone else, out there, was praying for me,” Williams said.
“Say thank you to our troops for a job well done.”
Golden Corral’s annual Military Appreciation Monday saw more than 1,200 military members and veterans treated to dinner on the house.
For 12 years, Laurinburg’s Golden Corral has hosted its military appreciation day in conjunction with Veterans’ Day. The event, in partnership with the Disabled American Veterans, is held at Golden Corral restaurants nationwide.
Military members at this year’s dinner ranged from those who saw action during World War II to active duty military recently returned from Afghanistan. World War II veterans received special recognition as the oldest veterans alive today.
“This year there are more World War II veterans than ever,” said Ella Hines, Commander of DAV Chapter 17. “This year, when we were doing our fundraiser, if a World War II veteran came in, I would talk to them and ask them about coming tonight. I assured them that they would be able to come to the front of the line.”
On the other end of the spectrum, one soldier present, Gregory McRae, was a member of Scotland High School’s class of 2010. McRae is currently stationed at Ft. Bragg.
“I didn’t think there were this many veterans in Laurinburg; it’s great to see the community support” said McRae. “I just got back from Afghanistan on September 23; that was my first tour over there. There are some soldiers who live in Laurinburg and travel back and forth to Fayetteville every day.”
Members of the Scotland High School JROTC acted as wait staff during the military appreciation event. For many veterans, the dinner serves as a place to meet and catch up with hundreds of other service members.
“Sometimes we’ll come out just to see if anyone that you’ve served with or haven’t seen in a year or two has come out to eat,” said Ander Clark of John’s Station. “You meet them because most of them don’t go to VFW meetings.”
Clark, who served as a combat engineer on mine duty in Vietnam, is currently a member of the Robeson County Honor Guard, which gives a 21-gun salute at military funerals.
“I go to these funerals and all that kind of stuff, you see soldiers but we all volunteer and you might get two or three at the most,” said Clark. “We give them the whole 21-gun salute, the whole nine yards. I can’t shoot the rifle because I only have one hand, but I can blow taps.”