By Tim Gardner
“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” –Country Music’s Lee Greenwood, writer and singer of famous patriotic song “God Bless the U.S.A.”
And former United States Senator John Thune was well-known for his following quote about our country’s slain veterans: “I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.”
Greenwood’s and Thune’s sentiments epitomized the ones of those who gathered on May 30 at Avery County’s annual Memorial Day celebration to remember and honor its natives who perished while fighting for our nation.
The ceremony was held on the Avery County/Newland Town Square which features its veterans’ monument with names of all county natives who served during a military conflict and in which war. The county/town square also highlights Armed Forces flags displays and gardens and the Fallen Officers, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Ten Commandments monuments.
Avery County’s Memorial Day Ceremony is organized and conducted every year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliary, Pat Ray Post 4286, in Newland. Approximately 100 attended this year’s ceremony.
The 2022 ceremony began with an invocation from Reverend Larry Dale Stamey, a veteran of the US Army who served during the Vietnam Conflict.
A Posting of Colors by the Avery High School JROTC was also presented during the ceremony and the National Anthem was sung by Avery High Chorus teacher Tara Andrews and Stephanie Watson.
The ceremony’s opening remarks were given by Retired United States Army Sergeant Kevin Holden, Newland VFW District 15 and Post 4286-Newland Commander and Editor of the North Carolina Veterans of Foreign Wars Leader Magazine.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was United States Congress member Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk resident. Foxx represents NC District Number 5, which includes Avery County. Foxx remarked: “As we remember our fallen servicemen and servicewomen, our hearts are filled with thanks for their bravery and the ultimate sacrifice they made on ours and all of our fellow-Americans behalf.
“Those who lost their lives fighting are due the greatest respect and admiration from all of us as they helped ensure we have the freedom we enjoy. More than 1.1 million military veterans have died fighting for our nation and we owe every one of them more than we could ever repay.”
Other state, regional and Avery County officials and dignitaries attending were also recognized during the ceremony.
Kevin Holden presented the Robert C. Wiseman Distinguished Patriot Service Award to Wayne Holden. The award is given for exceptional service to the Pat Ray VFW Post 4286 and Avery County veterans.
The Presentation of Wreaths honoring the county’ s departed comrades was presented by Honor Guard Captain Bill Dean for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Marine Veteran Zeb White for Disabled American Veterans.
A Moment of Silence for the perished Avery County veterans and a Rifle Salute was conducted by the Pat Ray Post 4286 Honor Guard.
“Echo Taps,” was played by two youth trumpeters, Ryan Clark and Drew Eggers. Clark and Eggers are also members of the Linville Land Harbor-Avery County Community Band.
Other patriotic music was supplied by Dee Raby and the Linville Land Harbor-Avery County Community Band.
Reverend Stamey provided the Benediction and the Retrieving of Colors was conducted by the Avery High JROTC-Co-Instructors, Major Randy Matney and Sergeant-Major Jason Coleman.
Phillip Greene emceed the ceremony.
“Every Memorial Day ceremony we have held has been special and with a distinction all their own and this year’s truly was one of the best ever,” declared Holden. “”We were blessed with good weather and an enthusiastic crowd on the square as we honored those who paid the ultimate price for freedom.”
The VFW Post 4286 Honor Guard includes: Honor Guard Commander Bill Dean, US Army, Retired; Honor Guard Chaplain Larry Dale Stamey, US Army; Lieutenant Colonel Bo Barinowski, US Army, Retired; Sergeant Major Danny Barnett , US Army, Retired; Chris Bertolini, US Marine Corps; Captain Eric Bechard, US Army, Retired; Will Christianson, US Marine Corps; Troy Clark, US Army; Brook Dean, US Army; Jesse Downing, US Army Retired; Mitchell Durham, US Army; Dean Franklin, US Army, Retired; Captain Dean Harris, US Navy, Retired; Kevin Holden, US Army, Retired; Jim Love, US Marine Corps; John Millan, US Army, Retired and US Marine Corps; Oliver Nyberg, US Air Force; Jeff Pollard, US Army; Chad Yang, US Army, Specialist ; and Sergeant Major Anthony Pollygus, US Army, Retired.
Honor Guard Emeritus Members include: Sam Ray, Colonel, US Air Force; Jack Trivett, Corporal, US Army; Wayne Holden, Specialist, US Army; and Bob Mason, Specialist, US Army.