To commemorate Memorial Day, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars placed flags next to graves at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, to honor those who died in service to our country.

This took place on Saturday and Monday. On Memorial Day morning, a service followed on the plaza.

It was led by VFW Editor, Blogmaster and Storyteller Lee Heavlin, who served for 30 years in the Navy, and retired as Master Chief Petty Officer.

Heavlin reminded everyone that this is not just a day about mattress sales or cookouts.

Here at home, it’s about honoring those who returned from wars and played a big part in building UNC and the Chapel Hill community.

“Memorial Day, to avoid any confusion, is all about remembering the dead who died in service of their country,” said Heavlin. “We’re talking about people who fell in the battlefield, or had an accident, or something caused their death while they were overseas, or somewhere in the states in the service of their country.”

He also reminded everyone that the ground they were standing on is slated to be, at some point in the near future, the Veterans Memorial at Chapel Hill.

VFW Chaplain Garland Neville of Carrboro led a prayer at the ceremony.

He wore his Army Airborne wings, with two stars that signify his two combat jumps in Korea.

He joined the 11th Airborne when he was 16 years old, and went to jump school in Japan before being sent to Korea. He said that joining up when he was very young may have helped him get past some of the horrors of war, unlike “some of the older guys.”

Still, he recognizes the great importance of organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, where vets can talk to others who share that bond common experiences.

“Being a member of the VFW, like in Pennsylvania, they had a bar,” Neville recalls. “And people would go in there and talk. And a lot of the veterans – each one would tried to outdo the other one on what they did in combat.

“But you get a lot of this out of your system, you know? It’s good to talk about it. And the ones who go home and sit in their rocking chair and don’t talk about it – they’re the ones that wind up with some kind of sickness later.”

Bobbi Stogner attended with her husband, longtime WTVD News Anchor Larry Stogner.

Her father, James Clyde Welch, Jr., was laid to rest about a month ago at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.

He was a Lt. Colonel in the Army, and served overseas during the Korean War. His father was also a career Army man and West Point graduate who served in World Wars I and II, as well as Korea.

Stogner said it’s important for all Americans to remember what this day is really all about, even if they’re not involved personally with the military.

“When we’re not involved with a close family member that’s in the service,” said Stogner, “or we didn’t personally serve in the Army, we take it for granted. And I think, to be here, and to see all these flags, to remember how many people really have given their lives to maintain that freedom for us – I think it’s important.”

Everett “Bud” Hampton is 90 years old. He’ll be 91 in November.

The Kannapolis native joined the Marines in July, 1942, and became part of the 4th Marine Division at Camp Lejeune a few moths later.

He saw combat in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and even got wounded by a Japanese soldier’s hand grenade in Iwo Jima.

Afterward, he returned to North Carolina, and attended UNC from 1946 until 1950. Then he was called back to serve in Korea, where he commanded a rifle company for two years.

Hampton retired as a Major from the service in 1965, and went on to work for the University of North Carolina, first as a loan officer or five years; then as the business manager for the Department of Surgery for another 18.

He and his World War II comrades gather at least once a year. And he attends this Memorial Day service in Chapel Hill every year, without fail.

“You just can’t forget some of the men and buddies that you had during all those battles,” said Hampton. “You lose so many of them.”