A mixed crowd of veterans, active-duty soldiers and other residents gathered at Freedom Memorial Park on Monday to remember those who served the country and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Fayetteville City Council members Kathy Jensen, Mario Benavente, Derrick Thompson, and Brenda McNair were in attendance. Thompson, a veteran himself, read a declaration from Mayor Mitch Colvin proclaiming Monday as Memorial Day in the city. Colvin was not at the ceremony.
The guest speaker was retired Maj. Gen. William Kirkland, who graduated from Reid Ross High School in 1971 and calls the Hope Mills area home.
“My name is Maj. Gen. William ‘Wild Bill’ Kirkland. I’m an American soldier. I am still dangerous,” Kirkland said, his opening line invoking laughs from the crowd.
“I may not be able to run up and down Longstreet like I used to, but I can still squeeze the trigger.”
That provoked a few shouts of “hooah” from veterans.
Kirkland followed in the footsteps of his father, who was in the 82nd Airborne Division.
“I still live in his shadow,” he said.
Kirkland told CityView that his family has a history of service to America and that he has documentation that says he is a direct descendant of a Buffalo Soldier. The famed regiment of Black men served in the western frontier after the American Civil War.
“There are people that would tell me I was held back because of the color of my skin or ‘someone’ held me back. But when I do the math, if I had stayed out of the women’s dorm at N.C. State, I would have made something of myself,” Kirkland joked.
Kirkland’s memorial speech then turned to a more serious tone that highlighted current events in politics and American life.
“You can look at the things going on around you and say to yourself, ‘Something just isn’t right.’”
People in the crowd nodded in agreement.
“When the people of this country have to fear retaliation from their government, something just isn’t right,” said Kirkland. “If push comes to shove and I have to jump back into uniform of some sort, I’ll be one of the first ones out pointing to the flag saying, ‘This we will defend.’”
Kirkland pointed to an American flag flying at half-mast, and the crowd cheered.
After the service, a long line formed of people who wanted to shake his hand. Some asked him to run for president.
“I wouldn’t make a good politician,” said the soldier.
A day for remembrance
Overall, eight wreaths were laid at monuments in Freedom Memorial Park on Monday. The veterans group Rolling Thunder NC Chapter 1 led a “missing man” table presentation, which honors someone from each service branch who served in war and is still reported missing.
The ceremonial wreath-laying was started 26 years ago by Don Talbot, who was at Monday’s tribute by passed the emcee honors to Ann Provencher this year.
“I stand before you on this proud day of remembrance and ask that you join me in remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of this great nation, but in truly reflecting on their legacy,” Provencher said from the podium.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Steve Sargent spent 27 years in the Army.
“You name it I did it,” said Sargent.
Sargent helped lay a wreath on behalf of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association in remembrance of Fallen Sky soldiers. Sargent was nicknamed “Double Barrel” by those under him because his name and rank are the same.
Sargent, who was born in Minnesota, first reported to jump school at Fort Bragg. After his service ended, he decided to call Fayetteville his permanent home.
“Fayetteville is a wonderful place to be,” said Sargent.
Hope Mills Commissioner Grilley Mitchell, an Army veteran and president of the Cumberland County Veterans Counci, is a familiar face at military events honoring veterans.
“Without the sacrifice made by those individuals, this country would not enjoy the freedom we have,” Mitchell said Monday.
He laid a wreath at the foot of the All Services Dedication stone.
“I’m here to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s what this is about; to remember.”
At the conclusion of the service, bagpipe musicians played “Amazing Grace.”
The lonely sounds of the hymn carried high into the gray clouds plump with rain.
The crowd stood in silence and remembered.