Heroes remembered: Veterans memorial dedicated

Friday, November 13, 2009
Among many veterans with war stories to tell, William T. Hartley Sr., in a blue shirt with his hat over his heart, stands for a prayer for veterans and America at the dedication of the Veterans Memorial in Chapel Hill's Larry Lewter Memorial Park.

CHAPEL HILL - Dedication of the Veterans Memorial in Larry Lewter Memorial Park came with somber moments Wednesday as the community's respect for service men and women was revealed by more people than chairs.

"The chair brigade is right there," Mayor Carl Cooper said before his remarks to honor veterans who've protected American freedoms. It's "what brings us together," said Cooper, noting the late Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) as one who recognized freedom as the backbone of this nation.

Establishment of a Veterans Monument was "long overdue," VFW Post 1509 Commander Hundley Ford Sr. said.

Lamar Leonard leads the Veterans Committee in Chapel Hill and told those present for the unveiling of the monument that it was a fine day to celebrate revitalization of a park that acknowledges: "The United States of America is alive and well because of people who give of themselves."

Among those at the town's memorial dedication and the traditional ceremony on Marshall County's Courthouse lawn were a couple of men who spoke of their service in the Korean War and the War in Vietnam.

William T. Hartley

There's a brick with William T. Hartley Sr.'s name on it in front of the Veteran's Memorial. It's among the first for the park.

Huntley, 77, volunteered for military service when he was 17. His son, Johnny Hartley Sr. spoke proudly of his father's service.

"Back then you could lie about your age," the younger Hartley said, leading up to how his father had to persuade his mother, Alta Mae Hartley, to let him join the Navy.

"Dad went to the Navy office and they couldn't get him shipped out that day, so he left."

While the son spoke at one side of the park, William Hartley joined him and continued the narrative about how he walked out the door with his head and shoulders slumped down.

"'What's wrong? Won't the Navy take you?'" the 17-year-old Hartley was asked by the Army recruiter who'd been smoking a cigarette just outside the joint services recruiting office.

"He talked to me for five minutes ... got the paperwork from the Navy and said, 'Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m. to be sworn in and be ready to ride the train,'" William T. Hartley recalled.

How'd he get his mother to sign?

"I had to con her," he said. "She'd told me, 'If I sign this, you'll go off to war and get killed,' so I told her, 'I might do worse here.' I had to use strong influence."

Months later at Inchon, Korea, thousands of Chinese soldiers were approaching the 137 men in his troop.

"We were stuck," he said. "The U.S. Navy saved our butt."

They'd landed on the Korean coast, realized they were outnumbered, so the Navy loaded them back on landing craft and set out to sea.

"They debated on whether we should go back to Japan... Two days later they landed us at Masan... What would have happened if the Navy had a 30-minute delay? They would have wasted us."

He came back in one piece, as did the retired master sergeant who was born 66 years ago this Saturday.

Roger Jordan

After serving 22 years in the Army, Roger Jordan retired in 1983. Wednesday, he wore a uniform he bought for a funeral. His stepfather, Donald Haskins, wanted a funeral with military honors.

Jordan was a signal corpsman in Vietnam for two years.

They were "always the first in and the last out," he said of the corps.

Recently, he returned from a two-week vacation in Vietnam.

"I always wanted to go back. This time I didn't get shot at. It was very enjoyable. It's very inexpensive. Everything is pegged to the dollar. Tip a bag boy a dollar and he'll kiss your feet.

"I went to a lot of the places I was at the last time," he said, calling the country "beautiful."

Beyond the cities, people travel by ox cart. In the cities, there are Mercedes and other luxury cars.

"There is no middle class," he said. "There are the haves and the have-nots."

As for his overview of that war and the wars being fought now, Jordan said, "We need to get off the pot and do something. We've got ourselves into a bigger quagmire than Vietnam ever was. It's true in Iraq."

More troops will resolve the issues, he said.

"Vietnam was more of a political war than a military war," Jordan said. "We had the capability in Vietnam to make it a parking lot if we wanted to, but the president wouldn't let the generals do what they had to do. It's like Truman wouldn't let MacArthur do what he had to do."

Jordan was interviewed in the VFW Post on East Church Street. Like other Vietnam veterans, he was not well received when he returned from that "political" war, so now he's glad to see the welcome that veterans are getting.

During the Courthouse lawn service and at the monument in Chapel Hill, prayers were said, veterans were honored and the American traditions continue.