With the sun shining and a cloudless Carolina blue sky overhead, Fayetteville residents gathered at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum on Saturday, May 4 to pay honor to the city's veterans with the opening of the 11th Annual Field of Honor.
The Field of Honor, sponsored by the Downtown Alliance and conducted through a partnership with the ASOM, is a "living display of heroism that flies as a patriotic tribute to the strength and unity of Americans, and honors all who are currently serving, those who have served, and the men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice for our nation's security and freedom."
With hundreds of flags flying in the background, the ceremony honored 10 veterans, along with a Gold Star Mother and a Blue Star Family. Nominees for the singular honor came from throughout the community, including commands on Fort Bragg. Honored were: Cpl. William A. Buck Jr., Master Sgt. Thomas E. Case, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Fred E. Farmer Jr., Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford and Sgt. Henry Robert Riehl. Five soldiers from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command were recognized: Maj. Ivan Castro, Staff. Sgt. Girard Gass, Staff Sgt. Travis K. Hunsberger, Lt. Col. John V. Keefe Jr. and Col. Robert A. Mountel. The Gold Star Mother is Paula Garcia and the Blue Star Family is that of Staff Sgt. Alex Rose.
Maj. Gen. James B. Linder, the new commander of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the Special Operations Center of Excellence, spoke at the event. Linder, a native of South Carolina, took command of the special operations training center on May 4. His previous command was Special Operations Command-Africa.
"It is an honor and my pleasure to spend this great Carolina morning with all of you," said Linder. "Having just returned to the states from command of the Theater Special Operations Command Africa, I would be remiss if I did not say that I am happy to back in North Carolina, back at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and back to calling Fayetteville home.
"Today we gather to honor and pay tribute to the men and women who have served or are continuing to serve in our nation's Armed Forces," he continued. "Whether you say Semper Fi, Airborne or Opresso Liber, all of us in uniform are known by one thing -- the flag that adorns our shoulder. It is a statement of who we are as Americans, what we stand for and who we will protect at all costs. It is our raison d'etre."
Linder commended the community for the care it takes of its Soldiers and their families.
"Today, looking out over this sea of red, white and blue, I am reminded why Fayetteville is such a great place to serve and live," he said. "This community, unlike any other in this nation, embraces its military members, honors them and takes care of them. Today, these flags symbolize the pride of this community in our men and women in uniform."
In talking about the meaning of the flag, Linder noted, "Does our flag mean sacrifice? Without a doubt. Walk through the rolling hills of Arlington or even our own Sandhills Veterans Cemetery and you will see the sacrifice that comes from those who serve under our flag. Spend time with our Gold Star families. Talk to the children who know their fathers through pictures and the memories of their teammates. Our flag, which has covered so many caskets through the years is a symbol of sacrifice, but it is also a symbol of courage and hope.
A Soldier wearing the American flag represents the strength of a nation that will not be defeated; a nation that will not let oppression go unchecked. I have seen and experienced the spirit of liberty that emanates anywhere our flag is found, whether over our beautiful Capitol building or flying from the back of a Humvee as it travels over ground few will dare travel. It is awe inspiring.
"In our own country, we often take for granted the ideas and the sacrifices represented by the flag. Some view it only as a symbol that can be used in protest, to make a point. As someone who has proudly served under the American flag, I believe that our citizens enjoy unprecedented liberty and freedom of speech, which the Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines we honor today stand up for," he concluded.