Memorial Day will come early in Garner this year.
The community will kick off the holiday a week early with its second annual Garner Veterans Memorial Salute to the Troops, 6 p.m. Sunday at Aversboro Road Baptist Church.
The idea behind the Salute to the Troops was to create a memorial service for veterans that would not compete with other celebrations at the unofficial start of summer.
There will be no hot dogs or hamburgers. No ice cream or face painting. No swimming pool. But there will be plenty of flag waving and plenty of time to reflect.
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The Salute will conclude with a wreath ceremony at the Veterans Memorial, which is about a mile south of the church at Lake Benson Park.
“This is a time to celebrate our country and to honor our veterans, especially those who gave our lives for us,” said Faye Gardner, who was instrumental in the construction of the Veterans Memorial.
The community held its first Salute to the Troops last year on the Sunday before Memorial Day weekend. Singer Steve Amerson, who often sings at Medal of Honor events, and Broadway star Laurie Gayle Stephenson led the service a year ago.
The highlight this year will be the 82nd Airborne All-America Chorus, an a cappella choir composed of men and women from the paratrooper division.
“They are soldiers first,” said Staff Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio. “They are highly trained specialists who have a two-year assignment to the chorus. After their time in the chorus, they go back to their other jobs.”
The chorus performs 500 to 600 times a year. Sgt. John Strothers, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native who is a helicopter mechanic, said the chorus can do up to 15 shows on the weekends.
“We are the face of the division,” Strothers said. “We are ambassadors. We go into the community and present the division to the public.”
The a cappella chorus was started in the mid-1960s and has performed throughout the country.
Strother, who was deployed overseas before joining the chorus, said the most impressive venue to him was the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. “The place was amazing,” Strother said. “The jumbotron was incredible.”
Staff Sgt. Bryan Vaiagae, an aircraft fueler, has been with the chorus longer than most members because he knows every part for the basses, baritones, first tenors and second tenors for all of the 55-65 songs in the repertoire.
Before he joined the group, he had been deployed in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Vaiagae grew up in Georgia and is of Samoan descent. The chorus’ recent performance at Ellis Island during the Ellis Island Medals of Honor ceremony was meaningful to him. New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and journalist Meredith Vieira were among the recipients of the awards given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.
But the most meaningful events to the chorus are the memorial events.
Vaiagae often sings “Amazing Grace” during those events, and he reflects on the men and women who gave everything for their country. “Singing that song at that time is not an easy thing to do,” he said.
The Salute to the Troops also will feature a community choir and orchestra this year. Beth Hunnicutt, the worship leader at Garner First Baptist, and Doug Pedigo, the music minister at Aversboro Road Baptist, will direct the choir.
Garner also will have Memorial Day service on at 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 25, at the Veterans Memorial.
If you go
What: Garner Veterans Memorial Salute to the Troops
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Aversboro Road Baptist Church, 1600 Aversboro Road, Garner