United we stand, salute
Standing side by side, Paul Gaither and Jack Little saluted an unfurled American flag on Friday at the veterans memorial in Claremont.
As the words of the "Star-Spangled Banner" filled the crisp November air, more than 100 people rose to their feet, too, during a ceremony to mark the day when the United States honors and remembers millions of American veterans.
"Twenty million Americans are veterans," said Jack McCaskill, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who spoke at the ceremony. "These men and women ask for little and have done so much...Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. I salute you."
Gaither and Little, both from Claremont, served in separate military branches in separate wars. Gaither is an Army veteran from the Vietnam War era. Little served in the Navy aboard the USS Princeton in the Korean War era.
The men found out earlier this year that Little served with Gaither's brother, Charles, in the Navy.
"It was a warming moment," Little said Friday.
The notes of taps, played by Leonard Allman, echoed against the trees.
Veterans removed their hats. One wiped a tear from his cheek.
"Taps always jerks my heart out," Gaither said. "I've had so many brothers pass and die in my arms. Support, that's what it takes for veterans, before, during and after service."
The Rev. Gary Haddock prayed for service men and women.
"We honor all veterans of all wars today," he said. "For those who are with us, we honor them for their service. For those who have passed, we pause to commemorate them."
Even after success in wars throughout the past 200 years, the nation continues to fight for freedom, McCaskill said. The best military investments, he said, are in the health and education of young people to ensure America has well-trained leaders who will continue to defend the nation.
"Today we are fighting global extremists," he said. "It's useful to remind ourselves that freedom isn't free. We must remember those who are in harm's way today."
Children seated on a row in the ceremony crowd raised small American flags that twisted in the breeze.
Claremont dedicated another memorial wall, the second at its veterans monument, honoring those who have served the nation. Henry Helton read aloud new names on the wall of honor.
"America remains a free country today because of the sacrifices of others," said Claremont Mayor David Morrow. "Please keep our veterans and their family members in your prayers."
Gaither said he and his son have helped erect Claremont's veterans monument. He said he has often traveled to Washington, D.C., for national ceremonies on Veterans Day. The growing Claremont monument has kept him in Catawba County for the holiday in recent years.
"That's a grabbing thing, up there in Washington," Gaither said. "It usually takes me two weeks to get over it. Here today, it was a warming moment, too."