Bad weather didn’t stop Navy veteran and others from attending Veterans Day ceremony

About three hundred show up to honor veterans in dreary weather

American Legion Post 187 Commander Mark Dwyer, left, and Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones stand to honor veterans as Michael Loveless plays “Taps” in the background. Dwyer and Jones had just placed a wreath at the Veterans Memorial during today’s Veterans Day Ceremony. A group of about three hundred attended the event under cloudy skies. WSJ PHOTOS | JAY LAMM

By JAY LAMM | editor@wsj30

Tom Botwinski stood in the drizzle looking at the names on the Veterans Memorial. He focused on the ones etched under the Vietnam War. 

Waiting for the Wake Forest Veterans Day ceremony to begin, the Navy veteran read and reflected. 

“I didn’t know any of these guys, but I feel that I did. And any way they all deserve my respect. All of them, from the Revolutionary War, up to the last name added,” he said. 

Botwinski served on the USS Ponchatoola, which was based out of Pearl Harbor. It was assigned to Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. The ship’s primary job was to provide fuel to all of the United States’ ships and planes in the area. 

“I was in the Navy from1962 until 1967,” he said. “I served with a lot of good people. Lots of memories. My twin brother, Tim, was on the USS Ponchatoola with me. He’s still alive, living in Wisconsin. We don’t talk much.” 

Botwinski, a transplant from Wisconsin, moving to Wake Forest seven years ago to be close to his daughter, said he always attends the local Veterans Day ceremony. 

He took his seat, near the podium, as Rich Heroux from American Legion Post 187, told the crowd the slight sound system problem they were having was fixed and the ceremony was about to begin. His words fell on patient veteran ears. 

About 300 people were standing and sitting around the Veterans Memorial, near the entrance of the Heritage Country Club clubhouse Wednesday. 

The memorial has been in Wake Forest since its dedication just two short months after Sept. 11, 2001. It took many years before the dedication to get the monument financed and built. 

“A group was formed and fundraising began,” said Frank Powell, III, who was secretary of the committee. 

Powell said a local businessman donated the land and Randy Bright, with Bright Funeral Home, oversaw the design and building of the monument. He said it took a great deal of research to make sure all Wake Forest veterans’ names were included. He said any veteran whose address was served by the Wake Forest Post Office is eligible to be on the monument. 

Bright also attended. 

The memorial represents veterans beginning with the Revolutionary War, up to the present. 

“It has served its purpose and honors our veterans,” Powell added. 

Heroux began the ceremony with a short welcome, and after posting the national colors, the Wake Forest High School JRROTC led a salute to the flag. The invocation was given by Stephen Haffly from Post 187. Lori Ettel sang the National Anthem, and then Heroux led the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The ceremony featured a number of speakers, ending with Mark Dwyer, American Legion 187 Post commander, who included a quote from British philosopher John Stuart Mill. 

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” 

Dwyer, along with Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones laid a wreath at the base of the Veterans Memorial as “Taps” was played by Michael Loveless. 

As the ceremony ended and emcee Heroux sent people on their way, heading to their cars before the weather worsened, Botwinski was walking alone, navigating the rows of chairs and small puddles with his head drooped to keep the rain out of his eyes. 

He was smiling. 

And then, he looked up, and said to no one in particular, “Thank you.”

From top, clockwise; NATIONAL ANTHEM. Lori Eitel sings the “National Anthem” as ceremony emcee Rich Heroux salutes the flag; NAVY VETERAN. Tom Botwinski attends ceremony; DWYER. American Legion Post 187 Commander Mark Dyer gives speech; People ignored the gloomy weather to attend the Veterans Day Ceremony; EMPTY TABLE. An umbrella is held over “The Empty Table” as rain started to fall during Joseph Csuka’s speech, The Empty Table serves as a ceremonial remembrance and originally grew out concern for the Vietnam War POWs and MIA troops.  While there is no official standard for this, the table is placed close to the entrance of the dining room.  It is usually round, small and set with a with a white tablecloth.  On the table is a red rose in a vase with a red ribbon, a lit candle and a single place setting with glass inverted and salt and lemon on the plate.  The single place setting symbolizes the loneliness of the prisoner, the round table represents the everlasting concern of the survivors for their missing comrades.  The white tablecloth is symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms and the single red rose in a vase with a red ribbon signifies the blood that many have shed in sacrifice, as well as a reminder of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.  The slice of lemon represents the bitter fate of the missing and the salt sprinkled on the plate is symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.  The inverted glass represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake and the lit candle is reminiscent of the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation. The empty chair reminds everyone that the missing and fallen are not present, but that there is a visible place for them in our ceremonies and celebrations; WSJ PHOTOS | JAY LAMM
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