As friends and family gathered Monday for the holiday to grill or enjoy the beach, Col. Scott Pence reminded people to stop and think about the families who had an empty seat at the table on Memorial Day.
Pence, 46, is Fort Bragg’s garrison commander. He was the keynote speaker Monday morning for a Memorial Day program at Freedom Memorial Park in downtown Fayetteville.
Inside the park, “All Gave Some … Some Gave All” is posted on one of the monuments. On Monday, flags were set at half-staff for the ceremony, and floral arrangements and markers had been placed in front of a podium.
“Ever since eight members of the Lexington militia lost their lives in the first battle of the American Revolution, nearly 1.2 million service members – soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen – have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Pence told those who were seated on the bleachers and in folding chairs. “We are reminded that the world remains a very dangerous place and that our soldiers are in harm’s way all across the globe.’’
About 300 people attended the service to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in the call of duty. The program – organized by veteran Don Talbot, commander of Purple Heart Chapter 2226 – incorporated patriotic music, a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace,” wreath presentations representing World War I through the Global War on Terror, and the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Company.
Pence first spoke of the family of Dalia Munoz, a teenager attending high school in Fayetteville. She remembers hearing the doorbell ring, and the men delivering the news of her father’s death, Pence said. Her father was a Golden Knight and member of the Special Forces.
The year was 2005, just four years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
From that day on, Pence said, Dalia’s life was forever changed.
Among others who have fallen, Fayetteville High School graduate and Eagle Scout Henry T. MacGill spent barely two weeks in Korea before he was gunned down by North Korean forces in 1950, Pence said. Only a few years before his death, he had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
MacGill was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest decoration for valor. The citation reads that MacGill repeatedly put his life at risk to save his men.
Pence evoked the names of others who died while serving their country, including Master Sgt. Ralph Joseph Reno, who went missing in Vietnam on July 3, 1966, when his helicopter crashed into the mountains of Quang Nam province.
It would be 2011 before Army officials identified his remains and declared the 38-year-olf Reno killed in action.
“Take a look around these sacred grounds of Freedom Park,” Pence said. “The memorials here are a gentle reminder of those brave men and women who raised their hand to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. These monuments represent the sacrifices of those men and women – and it represents the sacrifices of the families who are left behind.”
Pence talked about a unique bond between the military and civilian communities.
“When we lose one of our own,” he said, “our entire town mourns. We come together to support one another. … We are a community who takes great pride to be home to the thousands of men and women in uniform.”
As a final example of that empty seat at the table on Memorial Day, Pence recalled Earl G. Dawkins, who served with the Army Air Force’s 444th Bomber Squadron, 320 Bomber Group. As he and his crew were on their way to Dijon, France, in November 1944, an unexpected storm caused his Martin B-26 Marauder to crash, taking the lives of Dawkins and his crew, Pence said.
Dawkins’ name is listed on a plaque with others who died near the crash site in the village of Plottes, France. It reads: “They died far away from their country because they came to help liberate ours.”
So, Pence concluded, “As we gather with friends and family, let us remember that Memorial Day is a time to honor our commitment to never forget those who served and sacrificed for America. And today, we do that once again.”
Ann Provencher, who is with the Rolling Thunder North Carolina Chapter 1, spoke during the program on the Missing Man Table, a symbolic gesture that pays tribute to the nation's POWs, MIAs and all those who did not return from service.
"Their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good makes them all true heroes," she said. "We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never wholly be paid."
Ryan Jackson, 24, of Fayetteville, attended the ceremony with his grandfather, 60-year-old Army veteran Tim Katetianes.
“It’s a day of memory. Reflection,” Jackson said from the bleachers. “A day of empathy.”
Bruce Tyson, 72, of Fayetteville, called the Memorial Day program “extra special” as he left the park.
“It’s good to see so many come out,” he said. “More people are involved in grilling and beach travel. It’s warm but tolerable. I’m here because someone went somewhere else and sacrificed.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.