Local heroes honored with wreaths


The Haley family reads aloud the name of World War II veteran B. Shelton Sawyer before placing a remembrance wreath on his headstone during the Wreaths Across America event at New Hollywood Cemetery, Saturday. Sawyer, who died in 1991, served in the U.S. Navy.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, April 30, 2018

Stephen J. Changary Jr. had a personal stake in Saturday’s Wreaths Across America observance in Elizabeth City.

His father died aboard the USS Robalo in World War II, so attending the third local observance of the national wreath-laying event was a way to honor his dad.

“With me it’s very special,” Changary said. ”My father died for this country, so that’s why I’m here.”

Saturday’s ceremony at New Hollywood Cemetery was held at noon in accordance with the tradition of the national Wreaths Across America event. Dozens of Patriot Guard riders displayed American flags and 150 or more citizens took part.

Greg Stafford, commander of the Department of North Carolina Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was glad to see so many American flags. He said there have been many flag protests recently, an indication to him that some people have forgotten the flag’s meaning.

The flag not only represents what America is but stands for “what we hope to be,” Stafford said. That message of what the nation hopes to be is the biggest thing flag protesters are missing, he said.

Stafford said the Wreaths Across America event honors all those “who have fought under this sacred symbol,” adding, “the VFW looks upon all of these honored ones as comrades.”

Commander Randy Meador of Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City, another of the event’s featured speakers, said the wreaths laid on the graves of veterans are “shining testimonies that freedom is not free.”

Meador said those who serve in the armed forces are motivated by their love of America.

“As a united nation we can defeat terrorism, hatred and injustice,” he said.

Meador encouraged those laying wreaths at the headstones to read the veterans’ names aloud.

“They were and are more than just a statistic,” Meador said.

Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker, who also spoke at Saturday’s ceremony, asked those on hand to remember that America is one people made up of many races and many walks of life.

“We are one nation under one flag,” she said.

Freedom has not come without a price, Parker also said. The freedom Americans enjoy includes freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and the right to vote, she said.

“America has always been the first nation to stand up for the freedom of people around the world,” Parker said.

Parker also urged those in attendance to honor living veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces.

“When you see a veteran or an active-duty member of the armed services, take a moment to say ‘thank you,’” she said.

Darlene Chesson of the New Hope community in Perquimans County was among those who came out to honor veterans Saturday. She said she wanted to honor veterans in her own family, including an uncle on her father’s side who served in Vietnam and two great-grandfathers who served in World War I.

In addition, she’s a distant cousin of Jake Hodges, who performed the National Anthem at the event on his guitar. Ultimately, though, she wanted to honor all veterans by attending the ceremony.

“I feel like that we are still a free country because of people who give up a lot to serve us,” Chesson said.

Shawna Cain presided over the placing of wreaths in honor of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and those soldiers who were prisoners of war and or missing in action. Joan Bryant led the crowd in the singing of “God Bless America” and members of the Camden Marching Band and Camden Junior Leadership Program cadets performed taps.