MOUNT OLIVE -- As a youth growing up in rural Duplin County, Joe Scott and his friends played soldier.

Clods of dirt became hand grenades.

Sticks could be either swords or rifles.

But it was in the 12th grade that those days of innocence were shattered by the real cost of war, Scott told those gathered for Sunday's Memorial Day ceremony in Mount Olive's Maplewood Cemetery.

The annual observance was sponsored by VFW Post 9959 and included a wreath-laying ceremony conducted by the Mount Olive Police Department.

A Post Everlasting ceremony was conducted by post Commander Ray Harrell in memory of post members Garland Royce Brock and Rodney Southerland who died this past year.

Scott said he was in his third-period English class when the principal's voice came over the public address system announcing that a former student, Dennis Basden, had been killed in Vietnam.

"I was shocked," he said. "I knew Dennis Basden. We sat in the same study hall class. Some of the girls began to weep.

"A boy sitting next to me, with quivering lips said, 'I want to go home and get my gun and kill those bastards.'"

Scott said it was then we truly understood what Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman meant when he said, 'Boys, war is hell.'"

"Today we remember these fallen soldiers," he said. "It is not the living, but the dead we honor here today. There is no peace on this earth for soldiers are falling every day."

Scott spoke of the nearby grave of Pvt. James A. Powell, who died in World War II while serving with the 10th Infantry driving the Germans out of France and Belgium.

A farm boy, Powell grew up near Calypso. Scott said he has wondered what happened to Powell's family.

"There he lies from a faraway way," he said. "When we leave here today, visit his grave or the grave of a soldier to let them know we have not forgotten their story," Scott said.

Scott said that several years ago he and his wife, Becky, took their granddaughters to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. to visit the White House at Christmas.

Walking down one of the roads leading to the Tomb of The Unknowns they came upon a caisson pulled by four horses with three riders.

On the back of the caisson was a flag-draped coffin. An honor guard followed.

"As they slowly passed us we all stopped, and I placed by right hand over my heart," Scott said. "I looked down and those little girls (his granddaughters) did the same thing. Reverently they stood without moving or saying anything.

"There is a special sadness that accompanies servicemen who died while in active duty. We are not quite good enough to them, nor really can we be because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay. So when a serviceman dies it's a tear in the fabric. All we can do is remember."

They gave up the chances of being husbands, fathers and grandfathers, he said. They gave up chances of being revered old men.

"They gave up everything for our country -- for us," Scott said. "We owe them a debt we cannot repay. All we can do is remember them for what they did and why they did it.

"This evening as the sun sets let us reflect on this day and the soldiers who lie beneath these blades of grass and pure white stones. May the arms of God wrap around each in their eternal rest."

Memorial Day observances were planned for today at 11 a.m. at Wayne Community College's Moffatt Auditorium, at 2:45 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial on Walnut Street, at 2 p.m. at Fremont United Church in Fremont and at 4 p.m. on Ash Street, where a marker in honor of Marine Pfc. Dan Bullock will be dedicated. Bullock was the youngest American casualty of the Vietnam war. Only 15 at the time, he lied about his age in order to enlist.