By John Joyce
Published in News on December 15, 2013 1:50 AM
Robert and Ruth Kendall lay a wreath during the Wreaths Across America event at Evergreen Cemetery Saturday in memory of loved ones Howard and Raymund Kendall.
4th Fighter Wing Staff Sgt. Ben Seekell and Retired Chief Master Sgt. John "JD" Tucker lay a wreath for Air Force.
His back stiffened at the position of attention, an airman slowly raises his right arm as his fingers unfurl and meet his brow.
He renders a rigid salute.
Silently his hand falls back to his side.
The scene replays 450 times.
More than 100 volunteers from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, along with veterans and the families of veterans from all branches of the armed forces, converged on Evergreen Cemetery in Rosewood Saturday to lay wreaths at the graves of fallen veterans.
Emily Tucker, 22, recently crowned Miss Goldsboro 2014, had the idea after singing at a similar event in Fayetteville.
Touched by what she saw, she asked herself, "Why not Goldsboro?" she said.
"It took about nine months to get it all together," she said.
Ms. Tucker, whose father is a retired Air Force senior master sergeant, hopes the wreath laying ceremony grows to encompass every cemetery in Wayne County in the coming years, and becomes a Christmas tradition.
Mayor Al King addressed the assembled crowd of veterans -- all of whom purchased wreaths to place at the grave of a fallen brother or sister in arms.
"This is extremely personal to me because of my own combat experience," King said. "It brings back a lot of memories."
An Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, King said he becomes emotional at the thought of how veterans of that era were treated when returning from battle.
"We did not ask to go over there, we were sent," he said. "It wasn't always pleasant, but we served with dignity."
Saturday was the most he had ever discussed his time in combat, he said.
"It's not something we like to talk about -- any of us," he said.
4th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Lamar Pettus also spoke to those gathered at the ceremony and said the memory of those who served is a sacred trust passed along to youth through ceremonies like the one held at Evergreen.
"They each gave something in the service of our nation, and some gave all," he said.
Some of the attendees selected in advance the grave at which they would place their wreath.
Ruth Kendall and her son, Robert, placed two wreaths -- one for her husband, Howard Kendall, and another for her son Raymund.
Air Force Col. Howard Kendall served in three wars, Mrs. Kendall said.
Her son Raymund Kendall was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and served in Desert Storm.
"One of the most beautiful things about today is out here there are no colors. We are all one," she said.
Robert Kendall said he was moved by Mayor King's emotion.
"I really appreciated what the mayor had to say. For us ... Vietnam ..." he shook his head. "It was an honor to be a vet today."
Ms. Tucker said she hopes more people volunteer next year and that the Wreaths Across America movement really catches on here in Wayne County and especially Goldsboro -- a place she, the mayor and Col. Pettus each named the most military-friendly community in the country.
For Saturday, though, she was moved by the turnout and inspired by the young children she saw peering through the legs of aging veterans and held closely by their mothers whose tears they were still too young to understand.
"We need to remember, all of us, that our freedoms are not free," she said.
To volunteer for the next Wreaths Across America event and for more information on future events, contact Miss Goldsboro Emily Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Miss Goldsboro 2014 Emily Tucker.