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Wilson pledges support to veteransFree Access



Veterans Day observances in downtown Wilson showed Wilson County’s service men and women are not forgotten.

During a program organized by the Wilson Committee on Patriotism, about 100 people gathered in the Wilson City Hall council chambers to recognize Wilson’s veterans and their contributions.



Committee on Patriotism Chairman Emerson Ray Chambers was master of ceremonies. Chambers, who’s also commander of the Wilson County Disabled American Veterans chapter and a member of American Legion Post 13, led a moment of silence for all of the country’s fallen veterans.

James A. Faison, chaplain of the Committee on Patriotism, said suicide is becoming a major problem with the country’s veterans. 

“According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate among veterans is 22 per day,” Faison said.

Faison said 58% of older veterans ages 55 and up account for most of those suicides and three quarters of them aren’t receiving care through the VA system.

“Veterans commit suicides every 65 minutes,”  Faison said. “Nearly 8,000 veterans commit suicide each year, and Vietnam veterans have the highest rate.”

Faison said the highest suicide rate is among Army veterans and the second highest is among the Marine Corps.
“So today, we have got to remember that we have to work with our men and women. They went to war, survive, come back home to America and commit suicide,” Faison said. “We cannot allow that to continue.”

Councilman Derrick Creech offered the attendees “a hearty, outstanding welcome to our veterans.”

“Without you, I would not be here,” he said. “Without you, we wouldn’t have our freedom. Without you, we’d be in a totally, totally different world. We care about you. We love you. We want you to have the best of everything. I am saying on behalf of the staff of Wilson, my district and all of us, welcome to our program. Welcome, welcome. welcome.”

U.S. Rep G.K. Butterfield, a veteran himself, told attendees he has “a lifetime of respect and admiration” for the nation’s military personnel and the civilian employees who support the country’s military.

Butterfield said his father fought in World War I. 

“He was not from Wilson. He was from a little island called Bermuda,” Butterfield said. “My father left his homeland of Bermuda in 1917 on his 17th birthday. One year later in 1918, he couldn’t find a job. He was in New York City and he could not find a job, so what did he do? He volunteered for the U.S. Army, clearly understanding that he would be deployed to the war. He was not a citizen. He was a non-citizen, but the United States needed military personnel. He volunteered at the age of 18 and trained as an artilleryman.”

Seven weeks later, Butterfield’s father arrived in Europe and was assigned to an all-Black unit called the Buffalo Soldiers Division.

Butterfield said World War I was “brutal,” lasting four long years.

“It left unprecedented destruction and death,” he said. “Eight and a half million military casualties from many different countries.”

Butterfield said the United States is well prepared should a threat become a reality, noting that national defense accounts for about 17% of the country’s total spending. 

“America’s military success has been made possible because of our nation’s veterans,” he said. “There are 16 ½ million veterans living in the United States today.”

More than 615,000 of them live in North Carolina.

Butterfield said 42% of men 75 and older are veterans.

“I want to assure those veterans and dependents who receive benefits that the Congress of the United States is grateful for your service,” Butterfield said. “And I am confident that the members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, will continue to appropriate much-needed money for the care and support of our veterans. To the veterans who are here today, to the veterans of our community, we thank you for your service and we salute all of you today.”

SEA OF FLAGS 

A grassy meadow adjacent to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park has been transformed into a Field of Honor after the Wilson Rotary Club and community supporters installed 150 American flags in a tribute to veterans and first responders.

Many flags bore tags containing dedications for public servants, the military branch or agency for which they worked, their years of service and the family member, loved one or group that sponsored the flag.

State Rep.-elect Ken Fontenot told attendees the story of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal who made the famous photograph on Iwo Jima as six Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag at the top of Mount Suribachi.

Fontenot, a Marine Corps veteran, said the picture was “one of the most iconic images of World War II.”

Sometimes, he said, veterans’ identities are lost despite all that they accomplished. 

“Veterans have names. They have families. They have people who laid down the blessings of their sons and daughters,” Fontenot said.

Fontenot said the men and women in the service knew what they were getting into and said that fact is inspiring.

“They went through those doors. They went off of those helicopters. They jumped off those planes,” he said. “They swam through the ocean knowing that any day you might not come back.”

He said Veterans Day allows civilians and retired service members alike to advocate for the nation’s veterans.

“As long as I have breath and the ability, I will fight for what they preserved with their blood and sacrifice, and that is what Veterans Day is about to me,” Fontenot said. “I will fight until I cam fight no more, because that is what they have done.”

The 3-by-5-foot flags will be on display through this Sunday. 

Wilson Rotary Club leaders say they plan to install the flags and grow the exhibit in the coming years.