05/31/10 — Mount Olive ceremony marks troops courage

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Mount Olive ceremony marks troops courage

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 31, 2010 10:41 AM

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Troy Herring

Southern Wayne High School ROTC cadet Lt. Col. T'Keyah Hagans, left, and VFW Post 9959 Commander Richard Hansen place a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the flag pole in Maplewood Cemetery in Mount Olive during a Memorial Day service Sunday. The service included a history of every major American flag by the National Sojourners Tun Tavern Camp Heroes of 1776, patriotic stories, the laying of a ceremonial wreath, and the lowering of the flag to half-staff.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Toddler Caber Johnson was more interested in his Goldfish snacks and the decorations on the wreath than Sunday's Memorial Day observance. But for his father and former Marine, Dave Johnson, it was important that his son be at the remembrance.

It is a feeling that he and others at the annual celebration at Maplewood Cemetery shared -- a desire for the public to observe Memorial Day with reverence and not as just an excuse for a long weekend at the beach.

Close to 100 people, possibly a record crowd, attended the event sponsored by VFW Post 9959 and American Legion Post 103. Traditional hot dogs and soft drinks were served at the VFW post home on North Church Street following the program.

Several people, including a number of Scouts, Saturday morning helped prepare the cemetery for Sunday's observance by placing flags on the graves of veterans.

"It was a real big crowd, one of the biggest we have ever had," said Richard Hansen, Post 9959 commander. "Hopefully we will increase every year now. I was really pleased with the amount of people who showed up. The civilians need to start coming out. The whole service went really well."

Johnson, his wife, Tabitha, and sons, Caber and Jerrick, moved to Mount Olive in January where he is a student at Mount Olive College.

He said he tries to take his sons to patriotic events.

"I am trying to get both of them used to coming out, helping and volunteering and trying to make the world a better place," he said.

Johnson served nine years  with the Marines with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I fought in five operations in the war on terror. I fought in Operation Southern Watch, Operation Strike Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II," he said. "I was in the VFW in Black Mountain, but we never had the opportunity to do something like this. I just joined two weeks ago after I found out about the VFW in Mount Olive because I didn't know they had one until recently. I have been just helping them ever since. It is fun getting together with the guys. Usually it is the veterans that understand how veterans are. They are good guys to be around."

Johnson is working on his associate degree and would like to teach English or maybe physical fitness.

"I want to possibly get out and go in the Army as an officer," he said.

The Rev. Tim Snyder of Spoken Word Ministries gave the opening prayer and the benediction.

Retired Marines Gordon Crossman,  Carl Poulson and Ron Sortino, all dressed in Marine officers' uniforms of the 1770s, gave a history of the flag.

The three are members of the National Sojourners Tun Tavern Camp Heroes of 1776. The Sojourners are part of the Masonic organization and its members are Master Masons who are serving or have served as commissioned officers or warrant officers in the U.S. Armed Services.

Southern Wayne High School ROTC Cadet Lt. Col. T'Keyah Hagans and Hansen placed the wreath at the flagpole. Hansen and VFW member Royce Brock lowered the flag to half-staff as Durrell Coley played taps.

Brock, who was a sergeant in the Army, is the recipient of two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with a Silver Star.

He said it was an honor to take part in the event.

"I am proud to do that," Brock said. "I am a little bit discouraged because there are not more of the public here. Almost every year it is about the same thing. I attended church this morning, there is not one person from my congregation here. Not one relative of mine here. It is the same way with each one of the people here.

"Are we getting to be an ungrateful nation, I don't know. Do we take freedom for granted? Yeah, we do. Right now in this time, there is just a handful of people that is fighting for the freedom for other people. According to the population, the number is so minor. I guess life gets in the way, and we just take freedom for granted. I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to have served."