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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Veterans gather at USS North Carolina to observe Memorial Day

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By Krys Estes

Contributing Writer

People of all ages, from babies to seniors, paraded around Battleship Park adorned in red, white and blue on Monday.

“We stand, always on the watch, to care for your sons, daughters, husbands, wives and friends,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Christina Alvarado said.  “And while we rejoice for the lives that we saved, we still lose sleep and mourn for the lives we could not save.”

The community came together for the 51st Annual Memorial Day Observance at the USS Battleship North Carolina lining the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington to remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to the United States.

“Many of the patriots that we honor today, they were young adults when they died,” Alvarado expressed. “In reality, they gave up two lives: they gave up the one they were living and the one they would have had, had they lived. They gave up their chance to be husbands and wives, fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers. They gave up everything for our country, for us.  And all we are called upon to do is remember them.”

The public placed their right hands over their hearts as the lyrics, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” filled the tent while young ones played, not knowing the meaning behind our country’s national anthem.

“There is always someone remembering them for us,” Alvarado said. “No matter what time of year it is, no matter what time of the day it is, there are always people gathering in our national cemeteries across our country waving a flag, laying a flower or rock on a headstone. They stop and bow their head and they communicate with their hero. They call them by name. They recall happy or sad memories they spent together. Even after many years, their eyes still fill with tears. To this day, they still regret that they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye and that their hero died in a foreign place. They wonder if anybody held their hand or were offered a word of comfort, they wonder if their death was painful.”

The Memorial Day event was also a celebration for those who have sacrificed their lives, but had the fortune of coming home safely.

Retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer James Bowen stood around the tented area sharing a short version of his history with the Navy after serving for 40 years.

What was his most memorable experience while in service? He said, “Just serving. I love the Navy and think about it every day.”

Not all of the veterans who attended the event served for a long length of time.

U.S. Navy Seaman First Class Lou Popovich served one year after being released from duty after World War II had ended.

“It’s nice to be honored here today,” Popovich said.

Rep.David Rouzer, R-N.C., took a moment to reminisce what brought the community together, not only to remember fallen heroes, but to thank their families for their great sacrifices.

“The family members of our nation’s heroes never forget and we must never let them mourn alone,” Alvarado said. “At a minimum, we must provide the most basic comfort, the assurance that our country is grateful for their level of sacrifice in service and as a nation we have a responsibility to remember. We owe them a debt we can never repay, all we can do is remember what they did and why they had to be brave for us. We must do our best to see that other young men and women won’t have to join them.”

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