It was 9:47 a.m. Monday as a bus full of veterans pulled up to Roanoke Valley War Memorial at Lee Plaza across from the Municipal Building. Veterans, their families, officials and Roanoke citizens took time out of their holiday to honor all who served our country.
Sitting with former Roanoke City Sheriff and Councilman Alvin Hudson was Robert Gray who said he’d be 82 July 21. As a Corporal in the Korean conflict he survived being a North Korean POW for 34 months.
There were 100 or so people scattered about the plaza as retired Lieutenant Colonel Dan Karnes, President of the Roanoke Valley Veterans Council opened the ceremony as he does every year.
The Greene Memorial United Methodist Church bell chimed at 10:00 a.m. and the ceremony began. Mayor Bowers read the proclamation as he does every year. Amazing Grace brought some to tears as Brandon Davis played the bagpipes. In perfect unison the 21-gun salute by the Disabled Veterans of the Roanoke Valley shed 21 shells to the pavement.
The Memorial Day address was given by Colonel Lapthe Flora who was a Vietnam refugee hiding for three years in the Vietnamese jungle until escaping by boat in 1975. He arrived in the United States at the age of 16, learned English and graduated from VMI in 1987. He is assigned to the National Guard 29th Infantry Division and has completed three overseas deployments. He received the General McArthur Outstanding Leadership Award and a Bronze Star for exceptional combat during his deployment in Afghanistan.
“Lapthe is the epitome of the American dream,” said LTC Karnes.
Col. Flora paid special tribute to missing veterans “who’s names are only know to God.” He said he was indebted to the servicemen for his priceless gift of freedom. “You are guardians of peace.”
As a refugee in Vietnam he said, “the war took away my innocence and my father and communism took away my freedom and my dignity.” There is a heavy price to pay for freedom he said. “By their sacrifice they give us freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and freedom to live our lives however we see fit. We the living, we the grateful must ensure their sacrifice is not in vain.”
LTC Karnes and Col. Flora placed the wreath by one of the columns and stood silently as taps slowly played. A prayer by Rev. William Logan was followed by Retirement of the Colors. Veterans then mingled briefly and drifted away and the plaza was empty except for the wreath placed at one of the columns listing Roanoke’s fallen.
By Valerie Garner