Remembering those who served
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 9, 2009 1:46 PM
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Felisha Shelley of the Navy Operations Support Center in Raleigh plays taps at the end of the ceremony Saturday at Duplin Commons in Kenansville to honor the men who gave their lives during World War II.
Ken Avent, whose father was killed in World War II when Ken was only 11 months old, is shown with Kathleen Parker Cottle, whose husband, Roy Lee Cottle, also died in the conflict. They attended the ceremony held Saturday at Duplin Commons.
KENANSVILLE -- Ken Avent was only 11 months old when his father, John, died on a battlefield in France.
So instead of reaching back to memories of time they spent together, pictures and stories passed down by his mother are all he has to remember an Army private who died for his country.
"It's real hard. You just always wonder about the what-ifs, you know?" Avent said. "You wonder what could have been."
But that didn't stop him from joining more than 100 people at Duplin Commons Saturday as his home county formally honored its World War II dead for the first time.
More than 90 sons of Duplin were remembered this weekend, not just for the men they were, but for the cause they shed their blood for on battlefields across Europe and beyond.
Event organizer Dr. Charles Ingram called the ceremony "long, long overdue."
"We are gathered here today to remember all of these fallen heroes," he said. "And make no mistake, they are heroes."
Like Vernie Odell Fountain, a soldier from Chinquapin who was cut down by a sniper's bullet Oct. 13, 1943.
And James Hubert Turner, a 23-year-old from Beulaville killed by a bomb blast just more than a year later in France.
Ingram's quest to honor Duplin's World War II dead started with a newspaper column written by former James Kenan High School English teacher Jo Jones -- a few words about patriotism followed by the names of the men then-believed to be the lone sons of the county who never made it home from Vietnam.
Ingram read it a few years ago, and put it down with a sense of obligation to honor them.
So he started doing research, days of reading and writing that led to the discovery of several others who had been forgotten.
And he organized a ceremony -- and compiled a 50-page book -- to remember those he, too, mourned during the war.
Those 19 men were later memorialized on the Duplin Courthouse lawn but Ingram's work was far from done.
The Duplin Historical Society president had several more generations to honor.
"Eventually, we hope to have a record of all those from Duplin County who died serving their country, as best we can," Ingram said. "I feel we owe it to them for fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today."
Saturday's ceremony lasted nearly two hours, as one by one, speakers used phrases like "the greatest generation," and "we stand on the shoulders of giants."
But one set of comments stood out.
Cary Turner, chairman of the Duplin Board of Commissioners, was charged with speaking on behalf of a "grateful county."
But he spent much of his speech reflecting on growing up in awe of men like those who lost their lives.
"My generation ... we idolized the World War II soldiers. When we were kids, we took it to the extreme," Turner said, reaching back to memories of throwing make-believe grenades and hiking through trenches. "We had a strong sense of patriotism because of these veterans."
He told those in attendance about his father, a World War II veteran who made it home, only to shield his family from the horrors of combat.
"He never shared anything about that war," Turner said, choking up.
And he urged them to "do something nice" for a veteran -- any veteran -- before making a request to a handful of men who walked into the ceremony with something in common.
"Would the World War II veterans please stand one more time?" Turner asked, watching as the few got on their feet. "What do you say to men like this who you owe so much?"
The commissioner's eyes filled with tears.
"All I can say is thank you," he said. "A very sincere and never ending thank you."
Listening to Avent talk about his father after a lone Navy bugler played taps and the ceremony came to an end, it was clear that he would have gladly traded his seat at the remembrance for memories with his father.
But the one he does have -- the interment ceremony he witnessed after the war ended, just after his fourth birthday -- will forever hold a place in his heart and mind.
"I have always felt a lot of pride and patriotism because of him," Avent said. "I mean, when your ... father dies for his country, what more could you ask?"
The Duplin County Historical Society is still looking for information about the sons of the county lost in World War II. Those with details they wish to share, or those with the name of a county native who has not been confirmed to date, is asked to send correspondence to The Duplin County Historical Society c/o Charles Ingram, P.O. Box 775, Kenansville, N.C., 28349