‘We have a bond that defies description’

Upcoming events:
* Saturday, Nov. 8 at 11 a.m. — Veterans Day ceremony at Richmond County Veterans Memorial Park
* Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 9 a.m. – Town of Dobbins Heights Veterans Day service, Town Hall
* Friday, Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Career fair for military veterans at Cole Auditorium

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Photo gallery – more than 600 pics!

ROCKINGHAM — When approached, Ken Lyerly wasn’t sure he was qualified.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com A member of Laura Lee Martin's kindergarten class at Washington Street Elementary School smiles and holds a flag before the start of the 4th annual Salute to Veterans. The students led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
A member of Laura Lee Martin’s kindergarten class at Washington Street Elementary School smiles and holds a flag before the start of the 4th annual Salute to Veterans. The students led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The East Rockingham native spent more than 23 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a master chief petty officer. He served “during the Vietnam era,” Lyerly said, a phrase that means that he didn’t serve in combat. And he can’t help but feel a bit guilty for being assigned to more neutral locations while 58,193 fellow American service members lost their lives fighting in the jungle 8,700 miles away.

“I do still feel badly about that time in my life,” he said.

But Lyerly agreed to be a featured speaker on Friday for the 4th annual Salute to Veterans, hosted on the lawn of Richmond County Hospice on U.S. 1 North, in part because he felt it was a way he could continue to provide a service to those who were sent overseas and didn’t come home, or to those to did come home but as very different people.

And, he said, speaking was also a way to pay homage to an under-recognized population — the spouses and family members of American troops who are mobilized and sent away. Lyerly thanked his wife Betty for her ever-present, ever-steady foundation and support in caring for the home and raising their three children.

Lyerly said he was heavily recruited out by both Navy and Air Force representatives. The Navy man persisted, so “five days out of high school, I found myself in boot camp. I was asking myself, ‘Ken, what did you do?’ They had a chief boatswain’s mate that was in my face, questioning my parents’ marriage.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Ken Lyerly, a retired Navy master chief petty office, was a featured speaker at the event.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Ken Lyerly, a retired Navy master chief petty office, was a featured speaker at the event.

Flash forward so many years and, when asked to speak to the audience on Friday, he again found himself questioning his resolve.

“I have always counted on my ability to run my mouth,” said the former drug and alcohol counselor and United Methodist pastor. “To be completely honest with you … for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with that question.”

Then, Lyerly said, he recalled his retirement ceremony. Originally, he wanted a quite farewell — to notify the Navy of his intention to leave only so someone would know where to send his retirement check — but his fellow sailors wouldn’t allow it. He was accused of being selfish.

When others spoke at his ceremony, Lyerly said, they surprised him by becoming emotional. And that’s when it hit him. By wearing the uniform, “we have a  bond that defies description,” Lyerly said. “I don’t care what color of uniform you wore, you are all my brothers.”

Then he returned his attention to his wife, Betty, and all the other spouses and family members. He spoke of their sacrifice in a way that meant to convey to them he understood they faced struggles while their spouses or parents were away, obstacles that he couldn’t imagine.

His wife, he said, “was told to deal with the problems at home” while he was on assignment, that her problems were too small to worry him with while he was away. And his children, they “found it difficult to make friends” because all the children knew they’d be moving in only a few years’ time.

Once, Lyerly said, he learned Betty had replaced the timer on the dryer by herself.

“That normally would be my job if I were home,” he said. “She replaced the timer, and when I came home, she was able to change gears and make me feel that I was in charge. My wife is a superstar.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Hamlet resident Jimmy Brigman, right, is a retired Army master sergeant still active with the Disabled Veterans of America Chapter 59.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Hamlet resident Jimmy Brigman, right, is a retired Army master sergeant still active with the Disabled Veterans of America Chapter 59.

To her and all other military spouses, “thank you for your service,” Lyerly said. “A Veterans Day celebration without recognition of families is just not completely.”

Lt. Col. Tony Vacha, government advisory coordinator for the Institute for Military Support to Governance, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was a second featured speaker. An historian, the Ohio native spoke of the importance of World War I and how the signing of the armistice in France to end that war went into effect at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.

He mentioned that a virus and terrorism played a role in starting that war — conditions that were “eerily similar” to the happenings of today.

Vacha lamented the 116,516 American service members killed in World War I and the other 204,002 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines wounded. But such fights, he said, are necessary to keep alive American ideals and to “keep the wolves at bay.”

Between speeches, members of the Richmond County Hospice choir — Chris Thornton, Stephanie Thornton, Arturo De Aguilar, Julie Woody, Linda Russell, Peggy Gatewood, Jessica Mims, Jane Burnette and Jewel Mabe, along with keyboard player Linda Hatcher, performed patriotic songs including “God Bless America.”

Mims and Lisa O’Neal served as event committee co-chairs. In addition, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute and “Taps,” while Deputy Josh Schermak and a Rockingham Police Department officer performed a demonstration with a K-9 officer, much to the crowd’s delight.

Acting Sgt. Major Peter Leyden, also from Fort Bragg, stood at attention to lead the audience through the playing of songs dedicated to each branch of the military.

Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. led the group in a pre-lunch prayer and offered one more bit of gratitude for veterans and their families: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News, Rockingham

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