“How do we ever repay such a gift?” asked United States Army veteran Dr. Laura Tugman as she recounted on Monday the sacrifices of Michael Monsoor, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006. Monsoor threw himself on an insurgent grenade during a rooftop firefight, saving the lives of his comrades. Among the soldiers with Monsoor on the roof was Tugman’s brother. “There is really no way,” Tugman said she had concluded, that she and her family can ever repay Monsoor’s act of courage.
Monsoor was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions.
Tugman said she tries to honor Monsoor’s memory by living according to four principles:
- Be the best person she can be.
- Live a life characterized by gratitude for the sacrifices made by others.
- Never let a brother- or sister-in-arms suffer alone.
- Emulate Monsoor’s courage in the pursuit of these principles.
David Gantt, Chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, also shared a personal tribute as he addressed the crowd of about 200 that gathered at Pack Square Park on Memorial Day to commemorate the holiday and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the nation’s military veterans and community first responders.
Gantt spoke of “a farm boy from Kings Mountain, who heard the call after Pearl Harbor.” The young man enlisted, said Gantt, and served as a medic on Iwo Jima. After he returned home, that serviceman went to medical school and started his own practice in Spruce Pine, but “he was never the same.” Troubled by memories and dreams, the doctor eventually died after overdosing on pills and alcohol. That man, Gantt said, was his father.
“Honor the fallen. Listen to the stories. And try to be the best people we can be,” Gantt urged the crowd.
Gantt, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Tugman joined a military honor guard in the presentation of a wreath honoring servicemen and servicewomen who were killed in action. Other elected officials present included Representative John Ager, Senator Terry Van Duyn and Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams.
Patriotic music was provided by the Fort Bragg Ground Forces Band and the Reuter Center Singers. Asheville radio personality Matt Mittan was the master of ceremonies. The Asheville Police Department Honor Guard presented a rifle volley salute, and the Asheville High School Marine Corps JROTC presented the United States and North Carolina flags.
Army veteran Kevin Smith served in Iraq and Kosovo. He was in the crowd on Monday representing the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA). Smith and his wife Johna explained that CVMA is a national organization that provides support and assistance to veterans. Though there are seven chapters in North Carolina, the Asheville group is “just getting started,” say the Smiths. Membership is open to any combat veteran who rides a 550 cc or larger motorcycle.
Army veterans Tony Goodman and Debra Tumlin stood near the Smiths. Another Army vet, Ken Forester, said he served for 14 years and achieved the rank of First Sergeant. Don Stanley finished his Army service as the company armorer; Stanley often comes to the Memorial Day celebration.