By Mary Moore
A dedication ceremony for the new veterans memorial took place on Saturday Nov. 13, at the Seven Lakes Cemetery off McDougall Drive.
Attendees gathered around a black slab of granite engraved with the names of 320 Seven Lakes community members or their loved ones, both living and deceased, who served or are currently serving in a U.S. military conflict. The stone weighed over 3,200-pounds.
The unveiling of the wall and its dedication were long anticipated events, so it should come as no surprise that hundreds of people attended. Members of The Kiwanis Club of Seven Lakes helped orchestrate the event parking, attempting to accommodate lines of cars spilling out from beyond the parking lot. Several residents commented that they had never seen so many of their neighbors gathered together in a single place at a time.
The memorial was purchased Seven Lakes Wall Of Honor, Inc, a nonprofit organization led by Executive Director Victoria Levinger, of Seven Lakes News and fellow board members Tom Eliot, of Sandhills Winery; Ed Hill, of Edward Hill Wealth Management; Gayle Mace, of Mace Electric; and Sam Ransdell, of Burney Hardware. Funds raised by the organization came primarily from community contributions and a few local businesses.
The ceremony kicked off with an invocation from Chapel In The Pines pastor Paul James, which led into the Presentation of Colors by the Union Pines NROTC. Seemingly out of nowhere, a member of the Veteran Parachute Team dropped in. After the display, there was a performance of the national anthem from Rose Young. Other local musicians performed throughout the program, including J.V. Hudson on the bagpipes, The Corona Tooters band, singer Rodney Goodwin on guitar and Bob Wetherbie, who played Taps. During the event, each branch of the military was represented with flags.
The Honoree Roll Call was read aloud, in turn, by several military figures in the community: U.S. Army Veteran LTC Thomas Elliott; U.S. Navy Veteran LCDR Jack Berquist; U.S. Marine Corps Veteran David Zmiewsky; U.S. Coast Guard Veteran Ensign Kirsty Gilpin; U.S. Army Captain Scott Birdsell; U.S. Army Veteran Commanding Sergeant Brian Brech; U.S. Army Sergeant Tim Read; U.S. Army Veteran Sergeant Neil Copeland; and U.S. Air-force Veteran Lieutenant Colonel Robin Foskey.
Foskey, who lives in Seven Lakes West, also spoke about the importance of young women enlisting. She is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer who served for 23 years and was deployed five times to areas of the Middle East and Africa.
“For all the little girls out there, whether you’re in elementary school, or middle school or high school, 18 percent, give or take, of women serve in the military,” said Foskey.” So as you’re out there thinking about all the things you can do when you grow up, think about joining the military, because I’m telling you, you will not be disappointed.”
Owner of Seven Lakes Kennels and U.S. Army Veteran Neil Copeland took the podium after Foskey, and spoke about the one-of-a-kind “war dog” named Pepper, who died in action. Pepper served beside Sergeant First Class David Neilson, who was deployed to Afghanistan three times as a medic.
“You have to search the world from end to end to find a dog that can handle the rigor of a war environment,” said Copeland. Pepper has been given her own plaque immediately adjacent to the Wall of Honor.
Beyond the rows of chairs provided for guests who reserved spots, people of all ages settled in lawn chairs or stood back from the crowd to watch. Everyone was given a small American flag to wave. The event was followed up by music and beverages at Sandhills Winery.
“The ceremony was beautiful,” said Tami Klemm, while she and her two children searched the wall for the name of her husband, Russell Klemm, a military veteran who is also known as Scoutmaster of Troop 98. “I was very impressed by it all. They really outdid themselves.”
Contact Mary Moore at (910) 693-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.