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.”