Over 100 people attended a Memorial Day Service Monday morning at the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield.
The event was held by the Johnston County Veterans Council which represents local Veterans and Veterans groups in Johnston County.
Devell “Bull” Durham Jr., Past Commander of the American Legion Post 71 in Clayton, gave the invocation for the ceremony and reflected on those who died protecting our country. “They are not forgotten.”
Johnston County Commissioner Ted Godwin, a US Army veteran, welcomed those in attendance. Godwin reminded everyone Memorial Day is not a celebration but a time to thank generations of Americans willing to sacrifice, step forward and pay the price for our freedoms. “We can honor them by living a life deserving of their sacrifice.”
Seventh District US Congressman David Rouzer spoke during the ceremony held in the courthouse atrium. Rouzer said the only way citizens can have hope is through freedom, not through a fallen and dark world. Rouzer said the men and women honored today died for those freedoms. “We expect God’s blessings unconditionally without a thought,” Rouzer said. “Like freedom, it must be earned. Let us not just ask for God’s blessings, but let us be worthy of God’s blessings.”
Retired Brigadier General Russell Steve Hargis, whose career spanned more than 43 years, said there was no more patriotic place than North Carolina and Johnston County. Hargis said he was grateful the community pauses on Memorial Day to honor the fallen and the sacrifices of those who gave their lives.
Hargis said there are 248 names on a memorial in front of the Courthouse honoring those from Johnston County who died in past wars. In Vietnam, only 8 states had lost more people than North Carolina. In World War II, 12 percent of the population served in the armed forces in some capacity. Today, Hargis said, that number is less than one-half of one percent. Hargis said a very small group of people protect our freedom today. “Those men and women protect us regardless of our religion or independent beliefs.”
Ronnie Whittington, a US Army Vietnam Veteran and Commander of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 990 in Johnston County also spoke. Whittington said 2.6 million soldiers served in Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Of that number, 58,202 were killed. “We honor those who fought and paid the supreme sacrifice – those are the true heroes.”
A Wreath Laying Ceremony and 21 gun salute concluded the ceremony as taps was played by Vietnam Veteran Ken Parker from the Marine Corp League Detachment 1236.
Among the groups participating in the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony were American Legion Post 109 of Benson, American Legion Post 71 of Clayton, American Legion Post 518 of Clayton, American Legion Post 346 of Four Oaks, American Legion Post 328 of Kenly, American Legion Post 405 of Pine Level, American Legion Post 141 of Selma, American Legion Post 132 of Smithfield, American Legion Post 270 of Smithfield, Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 990 of Smithfield, Marine Corps League Detachment 1236 of Clayton, VFW Post 9564 of Pine Level, VFW Post 5955 of Selma, VFW Post 5886 of Smithfield, SeaBees Island X-I of Johnston County, and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 44 of Johnston County.