Smithfield Herald

Johnston County salutes its fallen

Speakers at the Johnston County Memorial Day service salute during the National Anthem on May 26.
Speakers at the Johnston County Memorial Day service salute during the National Anthem on May 26.

About 100 people came to the county courthouse on Monday to remember the Johnston men and women who have died in defense of their country.

The annual Memorial Day service included the unveiling of the latest name on the memorial in front of the courthouse steps. Chris Bohler, 29, died last December in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The South Johnston High School graduate served in the U.S. Army.

“There is no greater love and no greater cause than a man to lay down his life for his nation, his state, his country and his friends,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Devell Durham Jr.

Chairs near the courthouse entrance faced the monument that lists the names of Johnstonians who have died in the nation’s many wars. Retired servicemen kept a purple cloth on top until the unveiling. The audience listened as County Commissioner Chad Stewart read a proclamation declaring Johnston County a “Purple Heart County.” He then gave a copy of the proclamation to Bohler’s parents, Peter and Deborah.

Next, retired Superior Court judge Knox Jenkins spoke about keeping Memorial Day alive. Afterward, two veterans and Peter Bohler uncovered the monument and saluted. Two men then laid a wreath at the monument. Others gave a three-gun salute and played “Taps.”

After the ceremony, Peter Bohler said he felt sad but honored. He added that he’s been numb since his son’s death in December. “From the day we got notified that he got killed, to Fort Raleigh, Kansas, RDU Airport, funeral in Raleigh, to Arlington National Cemetery,” he said. Seeing people out in support felt good, he said.

During his speech, Jenkins said the people gathered at the courthouse were an exception: Many see Memorial Day as a three-day vacation rather than as a time to remember the fallen.

“You need only to understand the meaning of sacrifice, loyalty and freedom to know why this day is important,” Jenkins said. “Memorial Day is a sign to families of soldiers everywhere because it is a proclamation that their loved ones did not die in vain.”

Jenkins said the moment of silence on Memorial Day, at 3 p.m., is a good step toward bringing back the meaning of the day. But he added that Americans need to return to a traditional day of observance. Moving it to the fourth Monday of every May caused people to forget the day’s meaning and instead think about a long weekend off from work, he said.

Peter Bohler, who served in the Army for 22 years, said he hopes the country’s recent patriotism continues. “It’s good to see, especially with this new set of veterans we got now,” he said.

Afterward, people came up to shake hands with Peter and Deborah Bohler, thanking them for their son’s service.

Veteran Eugene Karaszewski of Clayton was among those who came to pay their respects at the ceremony. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1959 to 1963. Karaszewski agreed that it felt good to see people out in support. “Like Judge Knox said, it’s become a holiday of barbecues and drinking beer,” he said.

Earlier that day, Karaszewski was out placing flags on veterans’ graves. “We’re a band of brothers, so we stick together,” he said.