BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Mooresville-Lake Norman Exchange Club and the Town of Mooresville hosted a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday morning, honoring the hundreds of thousands who died serving their country as well as the 27 local veterans who passed away over the past 14 months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beth Packard, chair of the club’s Board of Directors, welcomed the crowd of about 150 people decked out in their finest red, white, and blue. “Americanism is extremely important to the Exchange Club, and we want to share our deep appreciation for our military, for the sacrifices that they and their families have made,” she said.
Packard also thanked Iredell Health System for sponsoring the Memorial Day wreath laying and Brawley Garden Center for donating floral plants to beautify the event. Flags were also placed along the promenade for each of the 27 local veterans recently lost.
Club member Cotton Ketchie delivered the invocation, “remembering the fallen heroes” and thanking the veterans present and their families for their service and sacrifice. He expressed appreciation for the ability to live our lives in freedom because of their supreme efforts.
Mayor Miles Atkins welcomed attendees to the Veterans Promenade, a dedicated space to honor veterans every day. Atkins lamented the loss of special hometown veterans whose stories were well-known to locals and who will be terribly missed.
“It does my heart proud to know we have such a caring, loving community that embraces and supports its veterans,” the mayor said. “I just want to thank you because we’re a role model community that loves our veterans and welcomes each and every one of them.”
In a deviation from the norm after a unique year, John Hedley, executive director of the Welcome Home Veterans organization, recognized and read the names of the 27 local veterans who died during the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 14 months.
“Most of these vets didn’t get a funeral, couldn’t have anybody in their hospital rooms, and didn’t receive any military honors, so this morning I would like to read the names of all those veterans so we can pay honor to them because they served their country faithfully,” Hedley said.
Those lost include James Perry, Carlyle Nunn Jr., James Chamberlin, Leonard McCutcheon, Arthur Rogers, Richard Lavoie, John Noe, Luigi Marinaccio, Kenneth Green Jr., Jay Sawyer, James Harrison, Lee Gardner, Pete Meletis, Harry Turner, David Griffin, William Bergenson, Kimothy Lambert, Keith Lynch, Kenneth Batson, James “Larry” Thomas, Thomas Palmer, Charles McLaurin, John Kirkman, Aleck Biehl, Jack Clemmer, Robert Sipes, and Elizabeth Adams.
Kathleen Green and Jim Kiser then ceremonially unfolded an American Flag, held it unfurled, and then refolded the flag to bestow the military honors these veterans missed.
In his remarks, Hedley observed that Memorial Day is a day of pride and thankfulness for those young people who were willing to die to defend this country. “These people went off to serve to make sure we can keep our freedoms, that we can enjoy our lives for them as well as for ourselves,” he said.
Hedley asked that among the cookouts and festivities today that people stop and take a moment to remember those who sacrificed all.
Hedley noted that 646,596 people, excluding the Civil War dead, gave their lives in combat for this country. Another 539,000 died from other than direct combat causes, including accidents and disease. Another 81,900 are still missing in action.
He added that 654,511 also died on both sides of the Civil War, more than all other American wars combined.
“That’s a staggering price,” he said.
Americans have also given their lives to liberate other countries in all over the world.
“A lot of countries today are free and enjoying a better lifestyle because of the sacrifice of our countrymen,” said Hedley.
Hedley invited the Gold Star family of Marlo Mikeal and her son and daughter to join him.
“We pay homage and respect to those who gave their lives, but a lot of times you don’t think of the effect on the families who are left behind, on wives and kids and mothers and dads.”
“The cost on the families is tremendous,” said, Hedley, noting the frequent pictures on social media of family and friends lying next to the gravestones of soldiers, mourning their loved ones.
The ceremony ended with the playing of taps. The MHS Color Guard presented the colors for the event, with Brianna Bernhardt singing the National Anthem.
Ketchie said after the ceremony that the Exchange Club highly values Americanism, working with the vets at Richard’s Coffee Shop and the Welcome Vets Museum, putting on the Field of Flags event on July 4th at the Lowes YMCA, hosting a veteran’s banquet, and holding other events and projects, such as helping create the Veterans Promenade in which today’s ceremony was held.
The 80 Exchange members are very patriotic, according to Ketchie. The club just created a “Super Patriot Award” in honor of Bill Bergenson. Two club members. Marlo Mikeal and Karen Kistler, received the honor this year, as did the family of Bergensen, who passed away in January.