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LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents took time Wednesday to salute America’s military veterans, and messages of thanks and support were issued by political and business leaders.

In Pembroke, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina held a virtual Virtual Veterans Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. to honor veterans. The ceremony can be viewed at https://youtu.be/3aajF__W41I.

Among those recognized during the ceremony were U.S. Army veterans Elisha Locklear and Rudy Locklear, and U.S. Navy veteran Calvert Jones.

Elisha Locklear served with the Army’s Berlin Brigade, said Tasha Oxendine, tribe spokesperson. Rudy Locklear was wounded in combat in Vietnam, and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Jones served in 1962 aboard the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear aircraft carrier, and was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Oxendine said. Two years later, he served as a member of the first Nuclear Power Task Force to go around the world.

“Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. recognized these veterans who were on hand at the Veterans Day program. They were recognized and thanked for representing veterans, the Pembroke VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), Robeson County Honor Guard and Lumbee Warriors Association,” Oxendine said.

Robeson Community College’s virtual ceremony began at 11 a.m. and featured a 21-gun salute, presentation of the American flag by the Robeson County Honor Guard, presentation of a wreath and remarks from students and faculty. Tobias Epps performed “Amazing Grace” on a set of bag pipes.

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with safety measures, it is vitally important that we never forget that the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today are, in large part, guaranteed by all of those who served so honorably in our nation’s armed forces. We, as Americans, are forever grateful to them for their unselfish devotion and courage. Let us not forget that because of the brave men and women who wore the uniform, we can live the lives we do in a safe and free country,” said Rudy Locklear, director of RCC’s Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy and Criminal Justice Technology Program.

The ceremony can be viewed on the Law Enforcement Training at Robeson Community College Facebook page.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke paid tribute to the nation’s military veterans by highlighting a student who served in the U.S. Army.

Darius Barnes always wanted to be an educator. By age 12, he was volunteering in the Sunday School nursery. Years later, he helped mold young minds as a YMCA counselor in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia.

Financial troubles that arose while he was a student at Virginia Commonwealth forced him to put his educational career on hold. He joined the Army. He served eight years, including a year stationed with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, and reached the rank of sergeant. At the end of his Army service, Barnes returned to the United States to pick up where he left off. In the summer of 2018, at age 34, Barnes moved to Pembroke and enrolled in the Elementary Education program at UNCP.

As a military-affiliated student, Barnes said the faculty and staff, including the Office of Academic and Military Outreach, was committed to his success from day one.

“I can’t begin to express my gratitude for all the incredible staff in the Office of Academic and Military Outreach. They helped get my belongings from the Army down here. They helped me get my apartment and arrange my work study. I never had to worry at all.”

Next week, Barnes will cross the stage along with 670 other graduates during Winter Commencement. He plans to move to Texas to pursue his passion for teaching.

On this Veterans Day, Barnes took a moment to reflect on his military service and years he spent as a multichannel transmission systems operator. In addition to South Korea, he was also stationed with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and with the 25th Infantry Division at Wheeler Army Airfield on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii.

“For me, I knew my purpose and that was to be the best soldier I could be. I learned what it takes to be an effective leader, how to train others and how to communicate with others. From my time living in a foreign country, I learned to embrace change and diversity and how to be flexible. In the Army, you find ways to adapt and overcome. You learn to embrace teamwork.”

The Robeson County Veterans Service Office, located at 550 N chestnut St. in Lumberton, issued a statement reminding veterans that the office has kept its doors open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and remains ready to assist them in any way they can.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the Robeson County Veteran’s Service office has been here to assist and serve the Veterans of Robeson County. The Robeson County Veteran’s Service office never shut their doors, instead they gave Veteran’s options with how they wanted to obtain services. They have been assisting Veteran’s Via phone, email, and through the USPS, as well as in person. The Robeson County Veterans Service office has increased their safety measures by added cleaning and sanitizing as well as daily temperature checks for their office employees, and they are asking all Veteran’s or Veteran’s family members to wear a mask while obtaining in person services,” the statement reads in part.

The Robeson County Veteran’s Service office can be reached at 910-671-3070. Staff members are there to answer any questions veteran’s or their families may have and to provide needed information, according to the office’s statement.

Among the people issuing messages of support and thanks was former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Today, we as a nation pause to honor the service, the valor, and the commitment of all those who have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. They stand as part of a proud chain of warrior patriots reaching back to the earliest days of our republic, each one taking up the sacred mission to defend our nation’s highest values, our liberty, and democracy. The women and men who have fought and sacrificed for our country are heroes, and the rest of us owe them an unpayable debt. They have earned our thanks and, above all, our respect,” Biden said.

In his statement, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican representing North Carolina, said, “There’s more than a million veterans in North Carolina who have sworn the oath to defend our freedoms and we owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay. As long as I’m your U.S. senator, I’m going to continue to fight for you.

“If you need help or know a veteran who needs assistance, please contact my office at tillis.senate.gov. I hope you enjoy Veterans Day and know that I’ll be thinking about you and praying for you. God Bless.”

Eric Smidt, owner and founder of Harbor Freight Tools, said Americans owe veterans and their families a debt of gratitude for their devotion to the United States.

“In honor of our veterans, the Harbor Freight Tools Foundation has once again made significant contributions this year to two nonprofit organizations — U.S. VETS and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans,” he said. “Their mission is to provide care and support for American veterans and their families, especially those who are homeless, hurting or hungry, and who need ongoing medical care, housing and employment — an especially crucial need during this pandemic.

“Thanking our veterans for their service is important, but it’s also our responsibility to support the organizations that are making a difference in their lives.”

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