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Solemn ceremony honors veterans

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U.S. Navy and World War II veteran Judson Rosser, 94, salutes as the national anthem is sung on Monday during the Veterans Day ceremony at the Rocky Mount Veterans Memorial at Jack Laughery Park.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Veterans Day ceremony on Monday morning at Jack Laughery Park included a moment to recognize those in attendance who served in World War II.

One of those who did his part in the successful Allied effort to defeat the Axis powers was Charles Johnson, 98.

Of Veterans Day, Johnson told the Telegram after the gathering, “It means everything” and emphasized the importance of the sacrifices of those who paid for the nation’s freedom.

As for the gathering, Johnson said, “Oh, it’s always outstanding. They do a beautiful job, beautiful job.”

He served in the Army Air Corps from 1944-46 and was a radar flight instructor.

Additionally, he served as part of the post-war occupation in France as well as in Germany.

Monday’s ceremony was held under overcast skies, but mild conditions.

One of the key parts of the gathering was retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Leo Nieves telling the audience of two tables.

One was set up in honor of fallen military personnel, while the other was set up to call attention to prisoners of war and those missing in action.

“The military way of life is filled with much symbolism — and these two tables provide a way to tell us that members of our profession, whom we call brothers and sisters, are not able to be with us this day,” Nieves said.

Nieves first spoke of the table in honor of fallen comrades.

That table was draped in black to symbolize mourning and included a single lighted candle to remind one of the flame of eternal life.

That table also included the Purple Heart medal to reflect the shedding of blood and the ebb of life in battle.

That table also included blank identification tags and an inverted dinner setting because the fallen personnel break bread in spirit only.

Nieves next spoke of the table to call attention to the prisoners of war and those missing in action.

That table was draped in white to symbolize the purity to respond to the call to arms and included a single red rose to remind one of the families of comrades who keep the faith.

That table also included a yellow ribbon to tied to vase to demand a proper accounting of the missing.

That table also included a slice of lemon on a bread plate to remind one of the bitter fate of those taken prisoner and those who are missing.

That table also included salt on the plate to symbolize the families’ tears as they wait.

And that table included the glass being inverted because the prisoners of war and those missing in action cannot toast with Monday’s gathering.

And the chair at that table was empty because the prisoners of war and those missing are not here.

Nieves, 59, served approximately 30½ years in the Marines, including in the Afghanistan campaign.

Nieves teaches Navy JROTC at Nash Central High School and Navy JROTC cadets from the school served as the honor guard and the ceremonial rifle squad at the gathering.

The gathering also included flying a flag flown during the 1976 American bicentennial aboard the U.S.S. Constitution.

The ship dates back to 1797 and is more commonly known as “Old Ironsides.”

One of the veterans at Monday’s gathering was James Mercer, who is director of military studies at N.C. Wesleyan College and also teaches military history on the campus.

Mercer, 63, served in the Army from 1976-2013, having achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

As for fighting in the Middle East against the forces opposing America, Mercer said, “As a soldier, you just do your job. You try to accomplish the mission, whatever that may be — and try to make sure that you take care of your fellow comrades and your soldiers that you are in charge of.”

And Mercer said, “You hope and pray that everybody comes home safely and in one piece.”

Other veterans at the gathering included Melvin Johnson, 62, who is the chaplain of American Legion Post 293 and a post-Vietnam War Army veteran, having served from 1975-78.

Johnson said Veterans Day means everything to him.

Standing alongside him was his son. Melvin Johnson II, 34, who served in the Navy from 2003-07 and in the Afghanistan campaign.

The father liked Nieves telling the gathering about the two tables.

“That was real nice,” the father said. “He did an excellent job. Amen, amen.”

With the father and the son was Post 293 Commander Chester Moody.

Moody, 73, served in the Army from 1964-67, in the midst of the Cold War and in what was an Allied-backed and free West Germany.

Moody spoke of the importance of him and his fellow cold warriors having kept the peace with the presence of troops in then-western Europe in the face of then-Soviet and then-Soviet-backed troops in the east.

“We were able to maintain the peace that was fought for in the second world war,” Moody said.

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