By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
Hundreds of citizens came out to events in Lillington Friday to honor men and women who have served their nation in military service.
One of the largest crowds in recent memory came out for the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the county’s Veterans Memorial Park in front of the courthouse. There was standing room only at the event which, this year, honored several local heroes with special medal presentations.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge presented a special award to 101-year-old Booker T. Williams, one of the county’s oldest living veterans. He noted he was not only honoring Mr. Williams, but also his family who remained home while he served.
“When we honor veterans we know we are really honoring their families,” Mr. Etheridge said. “I am sure that is the case with Mr. Williams and I am proud to be here today to honor him.”
Mr. Williams lives in the Shawtown community. He is a World War II veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Veteran Bienvenidos Tores was also scheduled to be honored but he was not able to attend. Mr. Tores is a Korean War veteran who was born in the Phllipines and survived the Japanese occupation of that country. His medals will be presented at a later date.
The families of veterans Willis Langdon and Ezra Darroch were also honored. Both men were veterans of World War II. Mr. Langdon was the father of former Harnett County Clerk of Court Dianne Hatley who returned to the area from Florida where she now lives to participate in the event.
Lt. Col. Marcus W. Wright, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team 1-505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was the guest speaker at this year’s event. He outlined the history of Veterans Day, dating back to when it was formed as a tribute to veterans of World War I, then labeled as the war to end all wars. Originally the holiday was called Armistice Day.
“Today we honor all veterans who have served,” Lt. Col. Wright said. “It is an honor for me to be here today to do that.”
As usual the event was a spirited affair, highlighted by the playing of theme songs from each branch of the military. It was culminated by a solemn laying of a wreath in honor of veterans near the county’s memorials in the park.
Veterans said they appreciated the effort.
“It gets your blood flowing,” veteran Kenneth Upchurch said.
“It is good to see so many people come out,” U.S. Navy veteran Bob Stewart said.
Mr. Stewart is from the Mamers community and served during the first Gulf War.
Following lunch provided by members of the Ernest Simmons Veterans of Foreign Wars, veterans moved downtown for the annual Veterans Day parade.
A local veterans motorcycle organization led the affair which proceeded down Main and Front streets in front of crowds bundled against some of the coldest weather of the season.
They were joined by local high school bands playing patriotic music as they moved through the area. Other veterans organizations, some riding through on impressive military equipment, were also part of the parade along with elected officials and local law enforcement leaders.
The event is held as the official parade for the county. It was previously rotated to different towns before moving to Lillingon permanently several years ago.
One lady, Linda Dixon, said she comes each year to honor her family’s heritage.
“I have a lot of military in my family, so I think this is important,” Ms. Dixon said. “It also gives the kids something to do while they are out of school.”
“It is another way we can honor the veterans who gave a lot for our country,” said Richard Dean, from the Bunnlevel area.