About 200 people, among them uniformed soldiers, patch wearing vets, boy and girl scouts and civilians, gathered at Memorial Stadium above McCormick Field for the Asheville/Buncombe Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. The sixth annual observation was also notable for the dedication of a veterans’ memorial on the site after a years-long and sometimes troubled effort by city and county leaders.
“There was a time I didn’t think this was going to happen,” said Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Gantt, who alongside Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, laid a memorial wreath on the site.
WLOS anchor Larry Blunt, who has a son serving in Iraq, presided over the ceremony and gave opening remarks that were sometimes emotional.
“A lot of people don’t think about the memorial part of the memorial holiday weekend,” he said. “You think of all the young lives over the years. And we just take it for granted.”
Another emotional speech was given by Council Member Carl Mumpower. Though he was not listed on the program, Bellamy turned over the microphone to the Council member in recognition of his heading up the effort to reestablish the stadium as a war memorial.
“Four and a half years ago,” Bellamy said, “We had a Councilman who said we are doing a shameful job of honoring our war dead.”
Mumpower, who in 2003 formed a committee to try and round up funding for the memorial, nevertheless voted against Housing and Urban Development money for the project in February because of his stance against accepting federal tax dollars.
But, he said, he was glad to see the memorial become a reality.
“This will be a place for our children to come and learn about service and sacrifice,” he said. “I’m glad I lost that 6-1 vote.”
The memorial consists of a brick wall and marble plates that list war casualties from Western North Carolina in World Wars I and II. Behind the wall, three flagpoles fly U.S. and North Carolina flags and the POW/MIA flag. Mumpower said the memorial will someday list war dead from all U.S. conflicts as well as stories b y veterans in Western North Carolina.
Earlier Monday, a Memorial Day ceremony honoring African-American veterans was held at Sunset Cemetery off Sweeten Creek Road in south Asheville. Jesse Ray, owner of Ray and Allen Funeral Service and owner of the cemetery, presided over the event at the 8-acre cemetery, where he said more than 350 African-American veterans are buried.
— Brian Postelle