11/21/13 — Club honors veterans with marker along highway in Wayne County

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Club honors veterans with marker along highway in Wayne County

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 21, 2013 1:46 PM

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JROTC cadets from Charles B. Aycock High School place a wreath on the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker during an unveiling ceremony Wednesday.

Wednesday morning's biting cold breeze didn't deter a crowd from gathering to pay tribute to veterans and the military during the unveiling of Wayne County's first Blue Star Memorial Marker.

The marker was temporarily placed near the Ruby Tuesday parking lot where the ceremony was held so that people could read its message and have photos taken. Across U.S. 70, balloons adorned the pole where the marker was mounted later Wednesday.

Evergreen Garden Club members launched a campaign last spring to get one of the markers after realizing that Wayne County did not have one, even though it is home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and numerous retired veterans.

The marker originally was to have been located higher up on the Spence Avenue Exit on U.S. 70 headed west. The Department of Transportation decided the better location is on U.S. 70 headed east just past the overhead bridge.

It is very visible to both east and west traffic, said Betty Slowinski, club vice president.

"We are here to pay tribute to our armed forces," Mrs. Slowinski said during the ceremony. "While we go about our daily lives, or while we sleep, the men and women in our armed forces, fly our skies, sail our seas, guard our shores ensuring our safety. They stand ready at a moment's notice to defend our country. We must not forget them and we do not.

"We dedicate this Blue Star Memorial Marker in honor and glory of all of those men and women who have served, are now serving or will serve in the armed forces of this great nation. It stands as a marker for all to see, lest we forget those who help to keep us free."

The marker will be a fitting tribute to the armed forces for years to come, she said.

The Blue Star Memorial Highway program was created by the National Garden Clubs in 1946 to pay tribute to the members of the armed forces who serve or have served in war or periods of hostilities.

The blue star was first used on service flags to denote that a family had someone in the military fighting during a war -- one star for each family member serving.

The project has since spread across the country, and the markers can be found throughout North Carolina.

"We started in early spring and by summer we already had our plans how we were going about it," said Anna Lawson, Evergreen Garden Club president. "It worked beautiful. The citizens were so eager to help and the veterans groups, they were the most generous. We cannot thank them enough.

"They made it a reality in such a short period of time. We were able to achieve this and bring this memorial to Wayne County."

The club has different programs throughout the year, she said. The state and national garden club program offers projects as well, she said.

Once landscaped with a bed of roses, the marker will be beautiful and will be there a long time, Mrs. Lawson said.

"People will enjoy that," she said.

Mrs. Slowinski praised the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition for all of its help in the project.

"I am very proud to have played a part in this," said Bill Graham, president of the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition. "The marker means a lot because so much of our ceremonies honor our fallen and our wounded.

"But today is honoring those that are actively serving, those who are standing on the front line for our freedoms. It is such an honor to be here and be a part of this today."

State Transportation Board member Gus Tulloss said the marker is only the second one in the six counties that make up DOT Division 4. The other one is in Rocky Mount.

Vic Miller, chairman of the Wayne County Veterans Advisory Board, spoke on behalf of Al Greene, Coalition vice president, who was unable to attend.

Miller said he lives nearby and passes the area several times a day. He said that when he looks at the marker he will feel a sense of pride and that he hopes others will feel it as well.