Hope and Haven Piskula and Alaina Gibson stretched out on a blanket and listened to the sounds of guitar, banjo and violin mingle with the hum of engines and excited shreaks of laughter from other children.
They were discussing Memorial Day at Hope Baptist Church’s annual picnic and celebration in Wake Forest.
“It’s a holiday for people who fought for the U.S. in the Army and all veterans,” Hope, 8, said.
“It’s for us to celebrate the people who fought,” said Alaina, 6, in her star-spangled dress.
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“People who fought for our country so we could be free,” Haven, 10, added. “If the veterans didn’t fight and die for us, we wouldn’t be here today.”
“We wouldn’t be in this state or this country and we wouldn’t get to celebrate,” Hope said. “So we should say thank you.”
Vietnam Veteran John Nyers, 68, said he was happy to see so many young people like Hope, Haven and Alaina out to celebrate Memorial Day.
“It can be a sad day for some of us,” he said. “It’s nice to come out and celebrate and give thanks and be happy for all we have because of others’ sacrifice.”
Nyers, of Rolesville, was an Army Sergeant and served a year in Vietnam in Alpha Company, First Battalion, 46th Infantry, 98th Brigade. He served 1968-69 and the 1-46th fully returned from Vietnam in June 1972.
“I was always patriotic my whole life,” Nyers said. “It was always my dream to serve my country.”
A large American flag stood at half staff at the event to honor military sacrifice. Children played in its shadow.
Hundreds of people attended the event, filling the hills around the lake, sitting in chairs or lounging on blankets. Families stood in long, curling lines for barbecue and fixings. Kids waited eagerly for rides in old military vehicles, bouncing up and down and tugging on parents’ sleeves or shirt hems. Others took refuge in the shade of a large tent to listen to live music from the Front Porch Kids and David Lanier.
Tropical Depression Bonnie dumped rain across North Carolina through the weekend, but the sun was out for the festivities at 3721 Quarry Road in Wake Forest. While the ground was damp, kids still rolled in the grass and families took selfies by the lake.
Shawn Villers, 11, and his brother, Kameron, could barely stand still as they waited for their ride in the back of a military truck with a roaring engine. But while they were excited about all of the fun they were having on Monday, they also knew the importance of the holiday they celebrated.
“It’s about veterans who served our country and the soldiers who serve our country today,” Shawn said. “Today is all about them.”
“We have to care about them because they go out and get shot and some of them die to make sure we can be free,” Kameron added. “We all feel bad but we should support them.”
Shawn said people shouldn’t be sad on Memorial Day -- they should enjoy their freedom and be thankful.
“We can be sad about the people who died but I don’t think they would want us to be,” he said. “They would want us to have fun and enjoy our freedoms that they died for.”
Taylor Purser, 8, wore red, white and blue cowgirl boots and a hat to match. She echoed the Villers brothers.
“It’s about people in the wars who fight for us,” she said. “We should be happy they did that for us so we don’t have to.”
The four Price brothers – Joe, 94, Elton, 92, Wilton, 90 and Percy, 84 – told the audience their World War II stories at the event, along with Bill Brown, a WWII pilot who was shot down in the Pacific Ocean.
The event also featured re-enactments from the All Americans who represent the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment both of the 82nd Airborne Dvision.
Nyers said he was thankful for events like Hope Baptist Church’s Memorial Day celebration because it helps people to remember fallen servicemembers and those still serving.
“It’s about passing on our history,” he said. “And remembering that freedom is not free.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett