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World War II veterans Bud Sweetman and Tom Koester and Vietnam veteran Ray Ryan had front-row seats as they took part in the annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday in Calabash.
All three wore garb from their respective branches of military service—longtime blood donor Sweetman from the U.S. Army’s Second Division and Ryan in his 101st Airborne Division uniform.
Koester, who turns 85 on July 13, was attired in his 1940s Navy uniform that still fits him fine.
“I was the first one on Omaha Beach,” he said, recalling that fateful day coming up on its 65th anniversary—on June 6, 1944.
Koester never misses the annual ceremonies paying tribute to fellow servicemen who have given all defending American freedom, and he always wears his uniform.
The three were among a large crowd turning out for the ceremony at Calabash Town Hall at 11 a.m. Monday, featuring keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, who urged citizens to take time to remember.
Despite a downpour that morning, Calabash Mayor Anthony Clemmons said he was insistent the clouds would part in time for the ceremony, and he was right.
The Memorial Day service sponsored by the town of Calabash featured a flag-raising by the JROTC of West Brunswick High School and a number of speakers paying tribute to those who have died and served defending America.
“It’s heartwarming today to look out and see how many people have come together in observance of Memorial Day,” Clemmons said. “Those who honor others are most honored themselves.”
A correlating ceremony attended by more than 200 people took place at Calabash VFW Post 7288 just a few blocks away, featuring guest speaker, retired Lt. Col. John Sparks.
More than a million veterans, he said, have given their lives for their country.
Sunny skies also prevailed at an annual Memorial Day service Sunday afternoon at Rourk Gardens in Shallotte, where Shallotte Mayor Gerald Long welcomed residents, several holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.
Among speakers was Jack Cosgrove of the Carolina Borders Marine Corps League Honor Guard Detachment 1036 of Calabash and Ben Lee of American Legion Post 503 in Calabash.
“We should always honor Memorial Day with reverence and great respect for our military past and present,” Cosgrove said. “God bless our comrades who gave their lives in military duty to protect us and ensure our freedom. God bless America and, oh yes, semper fidelis.”
World War II veteran London Gore of Brunswick County also spoke.
“The first thing I want to say is thank God that we have a few people who still believe in our veterans and love our veterans,” Gore said, drawing applause as he added, “Thank you so much for being here today.”
Gore also read a poem he wrote, “Daddy died in World War II, a hero he had to be. He never received the medal for making history.”
Keynote speaker was Col. Mark Hagan, commander of the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point.
There also was a laying of the wreath led by Bill Alexander of American Legion Post 503 of Calabash and taps played by West Brunswick High School trumpet player Keith Hughes.
A gun salute was fired by members of the Marine Corps League Carolina Borders Detachment 1036 Honor Guard of Calabash.
Joan Eccard sounded a bell as event emcee Mike Sapp read the names of those in Brunswick County who have died defending America freedom.
Though Lee said Memorial Day typically isn’t a day of celebration, Sapp said for him it was.
“I celebrate the lives of every person—not their death,” he said. “Without the sacrifices they have made, we would not be here today.”
Frank Richardson of Calabash VFW Post 7288 contributed to this story.