As Archer Lodge embarks on the three-year project to build a veterans memorial with biscuits and bricks, Clayton used its first-ever Veterans Tribute to commit to building one of its own.
The town held its inaugural veterans celebration last Sunday on Town Square and The Clayton Center, attracting a couple of hundred attendees over the five-hour event. For three hours, a helicopter, Humvee and military paraphernalia were on display, followed by a two-hour USO-style show.
At the end, Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod stood on stage and pledged that the town would build the best veterans memorial in North Carolina.
“The Town of Clayton Town Council realizes and appreciates the value that veterans yield in Clayton, North Carolina,” McLeod said. “The Town Council of Clayton, North Carolina, has decided that it’s time for the Town of Clayton, North Carolina, to have an outstanding veterans memorial.”
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The plan appears to be in its earliest stages, with no location, design or timeline announced.
“We don’t have a clue as to what it’s going to look like, but I can tell you, it’s going to be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” McLeod said. “We don’t know how it’s going to get paid for, and we don’t care, because we’re not going to spare any expense. ...We’re going to have the best veterans memorial in the state of North Carolina, because we have the best veterans in the state of North Carolina.”
The scale of Clayton’s veterans tribute seemed designed to make up for lost time. Each year, Johnston County’s focus is on the annual Veterans Day event at Smithfield-Selma High School, but town leaders still felt a demand for something closer to home.
“We needed to do something like this,” Councilman Jason Thompson said after the show.
The show included acapella performances by the 82nd Airborne Chorus out of Fort Bragg and a USO-style show by sister duo Gracie and Lacy. It concluded with five veterans describing their relationship with the words “honor,” “sacrifice,” “selflessness,” “commitment” and “loyalty.” McLeod said Clayton can expect the tribute to become a tradition.
“This is the very best tribute we’ve ever had in Clayton,” McLeod said. “I can assure you, mayor or no mayor, we will continue to have an annual veterans tribute in Clayton, North Carolina.”
Clayton’s Sunday tribute was among a handful of Veterans Day observances held in Johnston County.
At a ceremony in Smithfield, Raymond Sugg, a 92-year-old World War II Army veteran, said he pulls out and wears his uniform on Veterans Day. He said the day brings back memories.
Sugg was among the three oldest veterans to attend the Johnston County Schools’ Veterans Day ceremony on Wednesday. The others, Paul Otto and Sam Robertson, are in their late 90s.
“All the guys I was in with are gone,” Sugg said. “This puts me closer to them.”
In a packed auditorium at Smithfield-Selma High School, the school system honored members of all branches of the military. Each veteran stood as his branch’s anthem played. The veterans were also saluted by applause when called out by each conflict they served in.
A moment of silence was followed by the placing of a memorial wreath for all prisoners of war, those missing in action and the ones who were lost.
The mood in the room changed when the guest speaker, retired Marine Lt. Patrick Cleburne “Clebe” McClary, took the stage.
The South Carolina native lost an eye and arm in 1968 in Vietnam, underwent 41 operations and spent two and a half years in a hospital. He received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service to his country.
Despite all he lost in war, McClary is full of encouragement, is quick to laugh and doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself with pirate jokes. He has visited all 50 states and a number of foreign countries as a motivational speaker. His autobiography is titled “Living Proof.”
“Are you going to get bitter or get better? I chose to get better, and you can to,” McClary said. “No one can control your attitude but you.”
Through his struggles, McClary holds that his Bible is his most prized possession. “We rejoice in our struggle, because suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope,” he said.
The license plate on McClary’s truck reads “FIDO,” or faithful.
“The marines motto is semper fidelis, always faithful to your corps, to your country, to your flag, to your wife, to your children,” he said.
“What an honor to be in Johnston County with folks like you with the leadership you have,” McClary said in closing. “Prepare yourself mentally, physically, spiritually. Be willing to give what it takes to faith, for flag, for family, for freedom.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson