Pam Dudding Contributing writer
As early as 9:20 a.m., people started carrying in their chairs onto the courthouse lawn. Almost 100 people from Craig County gathered to honor the fallen soldiers of the past on Memorial Day this year, May 27, hosted by the New Castle Town Council.
David Givens, proprietor of Dave’s Live Sounds, provided the sound system and the patriotic music in the background for all to enjoy prior to the event starting.
Junior Christian described what Memorial Day meant to him in one powerful word: “freedom.”
Added Larry Guthrie, “It’s a time to take a moment and reflect on just what it took for us to be here. To be free enough to assemble, to have freedom of religion and of the press and all of the freedoms that Veterans made in their sacrifices just for us.”
Panco Cantley, the oldest military Veteran in Craig at 96 years young, opened his heart. “It means that we have freedom to worship as we please as we thank God for His divine providence to keep us safe. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to observe this day and to honor those that gave their life for our freedom.” Cantley served in the Army during the European Operation before being transferred to the Philippines.
Lori MacDonald, one of the newest citizens of Craig, said, “It means Freedom for our country and the people who fought for our freedom.” MacDonald and her husband just moved into her new home last week. “We loved the beautiful countryside here and the small community and we love the mountains,” she added.
The service started with the ringing of the bell by a Veteran of the local VFW Post #4491, Dennis White, followed by the Presentation of the Colors, the invocation, Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. The chatter quickly changed to an honorable silence when that happened.
The New Castle Christian Church sang several patriotic songs. Some sang along, while others hummed.
Alyssa Schulke, the Music and Band Director at Craig Schools, led the choir and shared her thoughts. “To me, Memorial Day is a day to recognize those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is a time to remember those we have lost and honor their service to our country.”
Mayor John ‘Bucky’ Johnson was ill, therefore his wife, Melinda Johnson, welcomed everyone and gave a beautiful thanks to previous Veterans of 100 years prior, reading the names from the plaque that proudly displays them: Nalvin Thomas Davis, Chap Johnston Elmore, Lamah Martin Huffman, John Ashby Jones, Frank Perkins Lipes, Charley Henry Myers and Byron Wade Reynolds.
“There are others that we may not know that could be family and friends. We would like to honor them as well,” she added before introducing the speaker, Dennis White, a Vietnam Veteran who served in the United States Marine Corp.
He started by sharing a little of his life. He has been married to Debbie, his wife for 24 years, lived in Craig for over 40 years in the same place on Johns Creek. Held a job, “long enough to retire,” he said before adding he went to the Forks of Johns Creek Christian Church for 25 years. After that, he started attending the New Castle Christian Church, where he is still a member.
“Memorial Day has been a holiday in the United States for remembering and honoring persons who have died while serving in the armed forces. They were still wearing a uniform when they passed away,” White shared. “I agree with that 100 percent. However, in this little speech, there are some other casualties that I would like to honor and remember also.”
“On average, 22 Veterans commit suicide every day in this country. Twenty-two Veterans are going to commit suicide today. Twenty-two Veterans are going to commit suicide tomorrow, so 8,020 Veterans will die this year as a result of committing suicide,” he said. “You may have even known somebody in this county.”
He told a story about a young man who nearly became one of those casualties.
It was the year 1968, and the teenage boy had just joined The United States Marine Corp. After only seven months, he was sent to Vietnam.
“He was in Vietnam about 12 months and 28 days and of those 12 months, he was in a ‘grunt unit’ as a squad radio man,” White noted. “He went on several operations and saw more than his share of the action in 1968 and 1969.”
The boy then rotated back to the world and finished his time in the United States Marine Corp. Then he got out.
“It was about this time in his life when things started falling apart as he just could not adjust to civilian life,” White continued. “He drank all of the time. He was in and out of the V.A Medical Center. He got married and divorced. Got a job and got fired. He was so depressed that he was considering suicide himself.”
“Then he sat down one day, and started reading the Word of God. ‘I am The Way, The Truth and, The Light,’ it read. ‘Only through Me shall you enter the Kingdom of Heaven,’” White added.
“And he read things like ‘I and the Father are One. Whoever knows Me knows the Father and whoever does not know Me does not know the Father,’” White continued.
“This young man, as he sat there and read God’s Word, believed it and accepted it as Truth. He started going to church. He was able to absolutely quit drinking, to absolutely quit smoking but he was not able to completely quit using foul language. It was by the grace of God that this young man was able to get his life back together,” White further explained.
When White said, “This man has lived in Craig County in the same place,” people immediately knew he was talking about himself. “I’m the person I am talking about in this story,” he said.
White concluded, “So, in this Memorial Day, as we remember and honor those who died while serving in the Armed Forces, let us also remember and honor those casualties who commit suicide every day as a result of serving in the Armed Forces.”
“I am a Christian. I am a combat Veteran. I am 70 years old, and life has taught me a lot and there are three things I’d like to pass on to you,” he added.
“God is real, and He is alive and well. The Bible is the Word of God. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I put my faith and my hope in God, and I’d advise you to do the same. Thank you.”
Said Johnson afterward, “I am honored and privileged to say that I know you. There’s a lot of other military persons who are here, like Billy Lee and others who are good examples for our children and for us and we thank you.”
She also gave thanks to David Givens for providing the sound and for helping every year along with the New Castle Christian Church Choir.
Another Veteran, Walter Marsden, shared, “Memorial Day is to honor the soldiers and sailors and all the other service men and women that served our country that didn’t come home to enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy.”
Edmond Johnson wore his t-shirt that read, Freedom Isn’t Free! Though Johnson tried three times many years ago, to enter the service, he was declined due to ailments, but his heart shows for the people who served. “It means freedom to me and having the love of our God,” he said.
“Memorial Day is to honor the folks who have given their lives for our country. It’s something that everybody should reflect on,” Sherriff Craddock shared. “It’s absolutely wonderful that people here in Craig take time out to recognize those who have done so much for us so we can live the life that we have.”
As ‘taps’ was played, tears streamed down some faces while others lifted their heads high, almost like they were looking into the faces of those Veterans who had gone ahead in their sacrifices.
Hugs were abundant. Smiles were sincere and respect and honor could be felt in the entire atmosphere, seeming to create a place where people call home and truly mean it.