06/01/10 — Residents enjoy day, remember sacrifices

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Residents enjoy day, remember sacrifices

By Laura Collins, Phyllis Moore, Catharin Shepard, Nick Hiltunen and Steve Herring
Published in News on June 1, 2010 1:46 PM

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Memorial Day weather at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park was ideal for Zach Besso and his 6-year-old daughter, Julia, of Pikeville, who decided to take a cruise around the lake in a canoe. Hundreds of others also hit the water for some summertime fun. The weekend's attendance was up over last year's opening day, park officials said.

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Toni McCance cleans the family grill in preparation for a family cookout on Monday, while husband Kevan, background, trims tree branches.

The smell of fresh peaches filled the air as a steady stream of local residents visited the Country Fruit Stand No. 3 on Highway 117 in Pikeville Monday afternoon. The residents were buying last-minute items for their Memorial Day cookouts that evening.

For Paul Bollin, of Pikeville, the family cookout caps off a long Memorial Day weekend of remembering and celebrating. Honoring veterans who have passed began Sunday for Bollin as he placed flags next to headstones at Wayne Memorial Cemetery. On Monday, he attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Wayne Memorial College before heading over to the fruit stand where he purchased fresh corn, tomatoes and a watermelon for his family gathering that night.

"We always do a Memorial Day cookout and remember my dad," he said. "It's a special day."

Bollin's father, George Bollin Jr., was a World War II prisoner of war and a member of the United States Navy.

"It's our chance to remember him and appreciate what he did," Bollin said.

Jay Phillips of Rosewood manned the fruit stand for his parents Monday. He said people had been coming all day to purchase last-minute items.

JoAnn Barnes of Fremont picked up squash, tomatoes and potatoes for her family Memorial Day cookout that has become a tradition over the years.

"We just really enjoy it," she said. "Everybody seems to be not working, and it's a good time to get together and enjoy each other's company."

The McCance family had an outdoor barbecue on Monday.

Kevan said he had been trained by his wife, Toni, early on that "there must be grilling."

"That's our tradition," his wife said. "I joke with people -- you have to grill, you have to cook out or they'll revoke your citizenship."

They both served in the military, as did their fathers before them.

And on Monday, they had 11 relatives and friends at their home to commemorate the start of summer.

Toni said she doesn't particularly enjoy food shopping, so she put off the task until Sunday afternoon. When she arrived at the commissary to pick up ribeye steaks, however, they were completely sold out, forcing her to scour the shelves elsewhere.

At Blockbuster Video early Monday afternoon, Charles Ellis was "just browsing" for nothing in particular spending the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the day off from work.

Anna Sanchez, store manager, said it had been busy for most of the day.

"It's been spurty, if that's a word," she said. "They're just coming in; it's their day off. Some people that are like me, the non-naturey people. It's just an extended weekend."

At Carlie C's, Andree Simmons and Veronica Crumpler were picking up a few last-minute items for their at-home celebration.

"We're cooking out on the grill, then we'll let our kids play out in the pool," Ms. Crumpler said.

Store manager Mike Pendergraft said there had been a steady stream of patrons during the day.

Someone even came in and bought a large canopy tent, he said, but mostly it was those buying staples for the occasion -- drinks, ice, meat for grilling.

Hundreds of people took advantage of the day off and the seasonally warm weather to spend some time outside.

Civil War re-enactor Jordan Houston was visiting a friend in Seven Springs on his day off and decided to get in a little fishing along the banks of the Neuse River.

"I came down to help him blacksmith, until he gets here, I'm just tossing the line out," Houston said.

But the southern Wayne County resident said Memorial Day was important to him because of the sacrifices veterans have made for more than 200 years to keep America "the land of the free."

"I think it's a good holiday. I think it's a day every veteran of every American war should be remembered, because of the sacrifices they made, just so we could keep what we got, even though at the moment, our own freedom in our own country is getting treaded on. If it wasn't for them, this country wouldn't exist in the first place," Houston said.

One of those veterans was Will Ross, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Ross, from Lucama, marked the day by taking a road trip to Seven Springs. He spent some time reflecting on the day's meaning as he rested his motorcycle by the riverside.

"Just celebrating our fallen heroes and the ones that are working with us and giving us, helping us keep our freedom," he said.

Memorial Day is also the traditional first day of summer at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, where park rangers opened the beach to swimmers for the first time this year. Hundreds of people crowded in to enjoy the long weekend, and Monday's especially nice weather, with no threat of rain, brought out even more visitors, Park Superintendent Lyndon Sutton said.

"They had about 200 yesterday, swimming. Considering it's the last day, and people are trying to get that last day in before they go back to work, I think we may have 150 (people)," he said.

The park rangers were among those working on a day most people don't have to worry about being on the clock.

Holiday weekends tend to be busier, especially when the weather is nice, the park staff said. The park campground was completely booked through the weekend.

The swimming area and canoe and paddle boat rentals are only open on weekends until Wayne County Schools let out for the summer. After the last bell of the school year, the beach will be open every day.

Lifeguard Ashley Saulton, 18, a graduate of Rosewood High School, was also on the job Memorial Day to help keep the fun and games safe for kids and adults.

"Memorial Day is usually our busiest time, and you see a lot of different people coming from all over. I really just like working out here," she said.

Miss Saulton has worked as a lifeguard at Cliffs of the Neuse since she was 15. Monday morning she was pulling double duty to help families get into their rented paddle boats and canoes without taking a spill into the river.

That's probably why she hasn't had to rescue anyone from the water yet, the lifeguard said.

"I like to be proactive," Miss Saulton said.

Triplets Dalton, Daniel and Dylan Bryson, 12, and their mother Dawn Bryson were spending Memorial Day at the park for the first time. The park was close to home and easily accessible, Mrs. Bryson said.

To celebrate the holiday, the family just wanted to "basically have fun together," Dylan said.

It was the Goldsboro family's first time traveling by paddle boat as well, and it took some careful maneuvering to get everyone seated without losing anyone overboard, but a nudge from Miss Saulton helped them along the way.

Margaret Suggs and her two children, Cody, 4, and Sarah, 2, went out on the river for one last paddle boat trip before packing up and driving back to their hometown of Ayden. The family camped out at the park with the children's grandparents and roasted marshmallows and hot dogs.

"Do you remember what Memorial Day is? What did we talk about?" Mrs. Suggs asked Cody.

He had a little trouble recalling.

"Remembering all the soldiers?" his mother prompted.

"Yeah," Cody agreed.

At the Neuse River beach, 11-year-old Drew Witherington splashed in the water under the watchful eyes of his father, Brian Witherington, and aunt, Linda Macintosh of Dudley.

It was the first time the family chose to celebrate the holiday at the park. Besides enjoying the beach, they planned to use the park's grilling facilities, too.

"We're going to cook out some steaks later, up there at the picnic area," Mrs. Macintosh said.

The day was also a chance for them to reflect on people who have passed away - like her own deceased son.

"It means a lot for those of us who've lost people," Mrs. Macintosh said.

A few families took advantage of the day off to enjoy the picnic and playground facilities at Westbrook Park in Mount Olive. Although no one was grilling by the gazebos around lunchtime, Donna Whitfield and her grandson, Jack Whitfield, 3, had a picnic and played together at the Kids' World playground.

"We just wanted to come and enjoy the park," Mrs. Whitfield said.

Before Mrs. Whitfield retired from teaching third grade, she always made sure to teach her students about why Memorial Day was important. Now that she has grandchildren, "we put out the flag this morning," to teach them about the special day as well.

"We always take time out to remember soldiers who are fighting and why they fight, and how they allow us to have the privileges that we have," she said.

Sisters Alexa, 8, and Aiyonna, 3, Bowden were enjoying the day at the park. Alexa said she learned all about Memorial Day at a special event at her school last week, and picked out a special shirt with a heart-shaped flag on the front to mark the day.

Air National Guard Battle Capt. Robert Lambert awoke on a November 2009 day at Camp Falcon in Iraq, headed to the gym, and heard an explosion.

The Patetown resident would learn soon after that the sound was an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP. The EFP had killed a U.S. Air Force airman at the forward operating base, just outside of Baghdad.

Lambert was one of about 19 men who walked Wayne County carrying flags on Monday morning, in remembrance of men and women who had lost their lives in military service.

He and other members of the Highest Praise Tabernacle Church in Princeton, who organized the walk through their church men's group, said Wayne County residents responded with cheers as they saw the men carrying U.S. flags.

"We got great support when we were out walking -- things we didn't even expect. People blowing their horns and just hollering at us."

Truckers in particular seemed to show the greatest enthusiasm, pulling down with vigor on the strings that sound their vehicles' horns as they passed the flag carriers.

Glenn Mills, the pastor of Highest Praise Tabernacle, said many members of the church are either current or former military.

That connection to the armed forces provides plenty of encouragement when church groups are given a chance to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, Mills said.

"We like to do community things, especially for the military, and that was really what today was -- to honor the memory of those who had fallen for our freedoms," Mills said.

The pastor said he understands the power of things people can actually see.

"When you see that flag, people are reminded of what Memorial Day is really all about," Mills said. "It's not so much about the church as it is letting the community know that we want people to remember, that we just don't let special days pass without realizing... that these days have a lot of importance."

Seeing the flags may remind people who have forgotten Memorial Day's true meaning, the pastor said.

"To a lot of people, Memorial Day is just a day out of work," Mills said. "We should remember that these are people who have given their lives for us. It's a reminder."

Lambert was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq when the EFP killed his fellow airman at Camp Falcon. He arrived back in the U.S. in February after being deployed in April 2009.

Although he has a more vivid and recent reason to observe Memorial Day with reverence, it was still a fun day to spend with his wife, Karen, daughter Katherine, 19, and sons Austin, 12, and Hunter, 11.

The boys had a choice on the day's activities -- either fishing or swimming.

"Those chose fishing. They love fishing. We just enjoyed the lake," Lambert said.

Although Lambert enjoyed himself, he said he hoped people also used Memorial Day to think about people who had given their lives in combat.

"It used to be a day of mourning for the ones who paid the ultimate price -- now it's people going to the beach, having their barbecue. That's all good and great, but we can't forget the real meaning behind it. When you see a guy in uniform, just say thank you for your service. It's just heart wrenching sometimes, the stuff that we take for granted."

"I like to come out and see that Daddy has his flag," Buster Wells said Monday afternoon as a light breeze caused the flag on his father's grave in Wayne Memorial Park to flutter. "It is just nice to come out and visit with him and my son. I do it at least once a week."

However, visiting on Memorial Day, as well as Veterans Day, carries a special significance -- Wells' father, William Heywood Wells, was a veteran of World War II and a prisoner of war.

"He never really talked about it," Wells said. "He didn't discuss the war. It was something he tried to forget. He didn't want to talk about it."

His father was 75 when he died in 1992.

"It is just amazing to have people out there who will put their lives on the line," said Wells' wife, Lisa. "You have to respect them and thank them for what they did."

The Wells family, who live in the Saulston community, also visited the grave of their son, Billy, who died of cancer in March.

The Neuse River was a popular place for some to spend Memorial Day.

Barry Rose of Princeton was securing his boat after a day of fishing while Rob Stillwagon, a staff sergeant stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, was waiting on his friend, Donnie Ray of Selma, to arrive to go bow fishing.

"Normally I would be working," said Rose. "I got started about 7 a.m. I caught one catfish and a couple of bream. Normally when the river is up like this you can catch a lot of catfish, but today it is a little bit muddy, a little bit warm. They weren't biting that good today. I reckon they were taking Memorial Day off, too."

Stillwagon had caught a gar before Ray arrived.

The two said they would be fishing on any Monday if they could get out of work.

But even with the enjoyment of fishing, both men said they appreciate the importance of the day -- and remember those who gave their lives.

"It feels good to be a part of something (the military) that helps give back what they gave to us," Stillwagon said. "We (serve) because we want to and have to. We don't really feel like we did much to get us here -- everybody before us made the sacrifice to put us here on the boats to go out and play."