05/28/06 — Pikeville dedicates veterans memorial

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Pikeville dedicates veterans memorial

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 28, 2006 2:08 AM

The sound of the 21-gun salute still echoed in the ears of those who came out Saturday to christen the Pikeville Price of Freedom Memorial ceremony when a member of the United States Marine Corps band started playing "Taps."

Most of the attendants kept their eyes on the American flags surrounding the veterans memorial or on the 2,500 small white crosses representing the soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq as the music played.

"We are here today to honor veterans of all wars -- the brave men and women that died for our freedom. I want to remind you that those men and women are more than just occupants below a headstone. They were real people and great, great Americans," speaker Marine Lt. Col. David Brown said.

The memorial service and monument dedication honored veterans and active soldiers, along with the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II and canine "soldiers" used in the battlefield.

"The greatness of this day is the greatness of those that gave their lives. In large and small towns alike, people will gather to think about yesterday and today," U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. said.

Pikeville resident Dennis Lewis originated the idea for the veterans' memorial. Although it isn't complete, he said his goal will be accomplished.

"I think every town should have a library, a school, a church, a police department, a fire department and a veterans memorial," Lewis said.

Joyce Mason, the president of the Wilson B. Eagleson Chapter of North Carolina, said people knew little of the Tuskegee Airmen 60 years ago and it was an honor for the town of Pikeville to honor the men who flew and fought for their country.

"There Tuskegee Airmen loved two things. They loved their country, and they loved to fly," Mrs. Mason said.

The 450 pilots who fought overseas during World War II shot down 111 enemy planes, destroyed 150 enemy aircraft on the ground and sunk one destroyer. During their time as a unit in the war, no U.S. bomber protected by the 99th Squadron was shot down. The unit also earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.

Mrs. Mason and other Tuskegee Airmen representatives received a go-cart.

For more information on the Tuskegee Airmen, former president of the Veterans and Patriot Coalition Ray Swinson said there will be a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Wayne Community College.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Roy Hardicker, chief of the history department at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, will speak about the role of the airmen during the war.

Another group of heroes that is commonly overlooked is the canine service corps. Johnny Money and Terry Mayo of the National War Dogs Association have tried to get a war dogs memorial built for years.

"They have served and saved American lives. It's about the children and grandchildren who are here today because they did what they were trained to do on the battlefield," Money said.

On Saturday, the two presented Jones with a plaque for his work to help build a memorial, and Money and Mayo were presented with a mini dragster.

Shortly after the presentations, retired Brig. Gen. Ronnie Griffin and Jones laid a wreath in honor of all of America's fallen soldiers. At that moment, the sun began to shine over the American flags, veterans and the monument in Pikeville.

"It is our duty to make sure their sacrifice was not in vain," pastor Don Sauls said.