RALEIGH — Memorial Day is a day for the nation to pause and recognize soldiers, airmen and Marines who were willing to give everything, even their lives, to ensure Americans retain their right to self-determination, U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, retired, said Monday.
They are the guarantors of our right to assemble here and to speak freely without any fear of harassment or retribution, McNeill told the crowd of more than 300 veterans and families of fallen soldiers gathered at the veterans section of the Historic Oakwood Cemetery while American flags waved in the breeze.
He said that soldiers today know that death is always a possibility when serving in the military but they do not expect to die.
Nobody was ever trained to die for their country, McNeill said in an interview. They were trained to lead a life of dignity and honor.
That is why they should be honored, he said.
There are 102 soldiers from the Triangle buried in the veterans section of Oakwood, with hundreds in other parts of the cemetery. Eight veterans from the Triangle have been buried there this year.
Vietnam veteran Tom Hines said he often thinks about the friends and squad roommates who served that died.
Hines, who served in the Navy from 1963 to 1969, always knew he wanted to serve in the military. It was in his blood, he said. He followed in the footsteps of his uncles, who also served.
It is what I was supposed to do, he said. I couldnt imagine not joining the service. If we were at war, I couldnt imagine not going to war.
After McNeills speech, the N.C. State Pipes and Drums played music, while families strolled the grounds to examine the tombstones.
McNeill, a North Carolina native, retired from the Army in 2008 after 40 years of active service in which he fought in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command, the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, which is operates out of Ft. Bragg.
His final assignment was in 2008, when he served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.