The night her daughter called her from California to tell her that her grandson died in combat, Pat Ayscue threw the telephone at the wall and broke it.
“No, no, no, no,” Ayscue recalls yelling that night in July 2006.
“It was devastating. He was the baby,” she said. “I had one daughter and one grandson.”
Henry Sanchez, Ayscue’s grandson, was a Marine on his second tour of Iraq when an explosive device killed him in Anbar province.
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Ayscue says her pain won’t go away, but she gets some comfort by remembering what her grandson told her before he went off to war.
“He said ‘If I don’t come home, remember this is what I chose,’” she recalled. “‘Nobody made me do it, and I’d do it again.’”
“He said, ‘At least understand that.’ I try to deal with it that way.”
While for some Memorial Day signifies the beginning of summer – community pools opening, cookouts and vacations. For people like Ayscue, a Garner resident attending the town’s seventh annual Memorial Day Observance on Monday at Lake Benson Park, it is about honoring those who went to war and never came home.
About 200 people gathered in the park. Some wore clothes with American flag images or carried flags. Veterans wore their military uniforms bearing the stripes they earned.
“(Memorial Day) means that we should be obligated as citizens to take time and reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, the event’s keynote speaker, said. “We celebrate and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Williams, a veteran of the U.S. Army, fought in Vietnam. He said he is thankful that he survived and is forever indebted to those who did not make it.
The program included the National Anthem by 2012 Miss North Carolina Arlie Honeycutt, a wreath laying, and Williams’ speech.
His speech was short, quick and to the point.
“The ones we honor today are responsible for the freedoms that we enjoy,” Williams said. “They gave their lives so we can enjoy our freedoms. Today is all about that.”
After the speech the Garner Magnet High School Army JROTC Color Guard presented and retired the colors.
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Earlier in the day, 10 miles down the road in Raleigh, Major General Cornell A. Wilson Jr., a former commander of the U.S. Marine Corps South in Miami, echoed the sentiments of former president John F. Kennedy.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,” he said at a wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial on the north lawn of the State Capitol. “I’ll update that to include women as well.”
Freedom is not free, Wilson told a crowd of about 400 people. “That cost is the service men and women resting in our cemeteries,” Wilson said. “They were ordinary folks who answered the call and rose to meet seemingly impossible odds and did extraordinary things in order to protect and defend our American ideals and way of life.”
“Their lives are dedicated not to conflict or death, but to compassion and life.”
He shared the story of a Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta, who when his team was in trouble, gave his life to ensure their safety.
He said Peralta embodied the values America holds dear – honor, courage and commitment.
“The family bears the heaviest burden when a loved one makes the final walk,” Wilson said. “Our nation’s responsibilities do not end at the grave site nor at the memorial service such as this today.”
Wilson, a decorated veteran, currently serves as the military adviser for Gov. Pat McCrory. He said Americans must remember these fallen soldiers forever.
“We have some challenges but we still have a great country because of the framework that they put together,” Wilson said. “The Constitution, our Bill of Rights, all those things are important and if we don’t continue to fight for those things, we’ll be just another to fall by the wayside.
“It means a lot to me to recognize what those men have done to keep this country safe.”