Lifelong educator Lewis Liles recalls talking to his former students at East Wake High School about exactly what history is.
On Monday morning, he told a gym full of veterans at the Zebulon Community Center that he had explained to his students history is really a story of mankind, and that veterans make up a substantial chunk of that story.
“In fact, we non-veterans remember you through the stories that you share,” said Liles, the keynote speaker for the Town of Zebulon’s annual Veterans Day celebration. “I know that many do not like to talk about combat and war. But when you do tell your stories, we learn about our history.”
That’s what makes veterans’ stories – even the ones that don’t necessarily pertain to military service – worthy of all ears, Liles said.
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Liles broke the meaning of Veterans Day into two parts – remembrance and honor.
“We want to remember all veterans with respect for their service to God, home and country,” he said. “Secondly, today is meant to honor you as a veteran. Even in the Bible, it states about soldiers that ‘these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of the times.’ ”
He hit on the comical stuff, like a story shared with him about the end of the Korean War, from local veteran Milton Jones’ perspective.
“(Jones’) squadron was aboard a plane, ready to head to Korea, and they came to the group and said, ‘The war has ended.’ So they all stood up and got off the airplane,” as Liles told it. “The pilot asked what was he to do. They said, ‘we don’t care – you can go on, but we’re not going with you.’ ”
Other stories are perhaps more historical – like those shared by the late Barrie Davis, who met with a German pilot decades after he shot Davis’ plane down in World War II.
Liles noted several of his students over the years returned to his classrooms to share their adventures – like disarming landmines during Desert Storm and other tours of duties – with the students of today.
“Realize that your many kinds of stories help us remember you and your life in service, as well as your many sacrifices,” he urged the crowd. “These stories, from comradeship, missions and military life, you should continue to tell your children, grandchildren and all that will listen.”
As a non-veteran, Liles said he has a great regard for Veterans Day. He wants to see the local area make its appreciation for veterans more permanent and visible, by working to get a Blue Star Memorial Highway marker installed in town.
Those highways have paid tribute to members of the armed forces since the end of World War II, and U.S. 64 from the Tennessee state line to Williamston is one of them.
“I, like so many who didn’t actually serve, appreciate this day of remembrance through your stories and your feats, and we wish to honor you not just on Veterans Day, but every day,” Liles said. “I’ve been thinking that we do not have in Zebulon any sign of remembrance and honor for our veterans. I would like to propose that we establish such a monument on the ramp to Zebulon off of Highway 64.”
The Little River Historical Society, which Liles is a member of, and the Steel Magnolias Garden Club are currently endorsing the project, soliciting throughout the community to help fund a marker.
Members of Wendell American Legion Post 148 ushered in Monday’s event by presenting the colors and leading the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Post Adjutant Allen White then read the poem “I am a veteran,” and the singing of “God Bless America” led into Liles’ time at the podium.
Centerpieces on tables at the event feature letters written by students at Bunn Middle and East Wake Academy Elementary schools, thanking active military members for protecting the country.
Zebulon Parks and Recreation leaders planned to send the letters to North Carolina National Guard Colonel Allen Boyette, of Zebulon, so he can distribute them to soldiers he is deployed with.