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THE KIRBY FILE | Bill Kirby Jr., Senior Columnist

THE KIRBY FILE: ‘God bless our veterans,’ retired colonel reminds us. ‘And God bless America’


"I truly appreciate every man and woman who fought so we could have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of liberty,” Col. (Ret.) Willie F. Wright delivers Veterans Day message at the Blue State Memorial Veterans Day Ceremony at N.C. Veterans Park.

Col. (Ret.) Willie F. Wright looked over a room of military veterans with a sense of pride.

They represented most all branches of the nation’s military, from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard. They were small in number on this Blue Star Memorial Veterans Day ceremony Saturday at the N.C. Veterans Parks that was sponsored by the Cross Creek-Briarwood Garden Club.

Small in number, perhaps, but they were there.

“Today is a day of celebration and recognition,” Wright, 86, would remind us of this day, circa 1918, originally known as Armistice Day and signaling the end of World War I that took 116,516 American lives. “One hundred and five years ago, the guns fell silent. The hope was it was the war to end all wars, but we know that was not the case. Unfortunately, the war did not end all wars.”

Other wars would ensue, Wright would say, from World II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the longest war of all in Afghanistan.

For every war, Wright would say, there is an American military veteran, including Wright, who served from 1959 to 1989 and served three tours of duty in Vietnam in 1964, 1966 and 1971 when he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as a tactical operations officer. 

“I truly appreciate every man and woman who fought so we could have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of liberty,” Wright would say. “Not only have they fought in wars, but they continue to protect us from war. God bless our veterans. And God bless America.”

DAR honors Wright

Wright later would be presented with the Daughters of the American Revolution Community Service Award by Elaine Bryant and Lib Wilson with the Col. Robert Rowan DAR local chapter.

Wilson would read a message from Mollie Dunn, a regent for the Rowan DAR.

“The Community Service Award is in honor of outstanding volunteer service, and he exceeds that,” Wilson read Dunn’s words. “Your community is so fortunate to have him and his talents.”

Bryant would pin the DAR Community Service Award to Wright’s lapel.

“I first met Willie when he was principal at Luther 'Nick' Jeralds Middle School,” said Bryant, then a music teacher at the Cumberland County school. “He encouraged all of the employees to volunteer. He was respected by teachers, students and staff.”

No matter where you go in this community, she said, you will find Wright volunteering either at the Cape Fear Region Theatre or the Fayetteville Symphony or the Crown Theatre. And you will find Wright as a volunteer for the Cumberland County Council on Older Adults, the Mid-Carolina Area Agency on Aging, the Cumberland County Veterans Council, the Braxton Bragg Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, the Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County and as chairman for a group that works with the Main Post Chapel on Fort Liberty.

“Fayetteville is a better place,” Bryant said, “because Col. Willie Wright chose to stay here.”

Wright is the second community resident to be honored with the DAR award from the Rowan chapter. The first was Don Talbot, the Vietnam veteran and curator of Freedom Memorial Park that includes a the bronze Blue Star Memorial Highway marker placed there on March 22, 2005, by the Cross Creek Garden Club.

“I am touched,” Wright said. “I am touched because I love people.”


You’ll usually find me at Freedom Memorial Park whenever the Cross Creek-Briarwood Garden Club celebrates Veterans Day and places a wreath on the Blue Star Memorial Highway.

“Momma says you better be there,” Sybil West with the garden club always reminds me of my late mother.

Mama was a member of the old Cross Creek Garden Club and was at the park on March 22, 2005, for the dedication after the late Elaine Nunnery found the marker that went missing from its place at the old fire station along Person Street. It was a cold day on that winter day in 2005, and I still can see Mama, frail, fragile and feeble, finding her way to the grandstand for the re-dedication. Mama could tell you all about World War II,  the Korean War and all about Fort Liberty to the buck privates to the generals with the brass stars on their uniforms.  

Other garden club members, most of them now gone, included Gussie Ammons, Heather Andrew, Juliet Brantley, Carolyn Campbell, Linda Chambers, Joan Elliott, Lourine Hall, Katherine Hurtado, Evolyn Joyner, Grace Henderson, Doris Lee, Bennie Melvin, Donna Myers, Debbie Nepstad, Marie Phelan, June Reichle, Jacqueline Russ, Martha Claire Sutton, Carol Swinson, Sara Frances Wade, Billie Widman and Nunnery.

Paying homage to veterans was important to them.

Just as it was Saturday for LaRue Cooke, the garden club president.

“Thank you all for coming out to honor Veterans Day,” Cooke would say. “As the daughter of a father who served at Pearl Harbor, whose grandfather served in World War I and whose uncle was killed in the Korean War, it is an honor to be here today.”

As it was, he would want you to know, for Col. (Ret.) Willie F. Wright.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961