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By: Erin Smith

A moving Memorial Day ceremony was held at the Bladenboro Historical Building on Monday afternoon courtesy of the DAV.
The West Bladen High School JRTOC presented the colors for the ceremony. The guest speaker for the afternoon was Retired US Army Col. Eli Ballard.
Col. Ballard is 30-year veteran of the United States Army and also works with the West Bladen High School JROTC program.
Col. Ballard recounted his experience in the Army to those in attendance. He said that while he was attending the U.S. Army War College, he was asked to be on the running team.
“One individual there was very deceptive. He smiled a lot,” said Col. Ballard.
He related that there was “one guy who would whip me running.” Col. Ballard said the individual was an Airborne Ranger, a medical doctor and a combat veteran.
“He was just a phenomenal individual,” said Col. Ballard.
Col. Ballard revealed the individual was Col. Brian Allgood.
He said that after their days at the War College, he didn’t see Col. Allgood again until he was sent to Korea. Col. Ballard related that his wife had to go to the hospital. The hospital she was referred to was 121st Hospital in Korea.
Col. Ballard said while he was there he bumped into Col. Allgood who was commander of the 121 Hospital.
Col. Ballard said he shared with Col. Allgood that Mrs. Ballard was a patient in the hospital. He said that Col. Allgood told him he would look in on her. Col. Ballard said that Col. Allgood did indeed check on Mrs. Ballard during her stay but he said he learned that Col. Allgood also checked on every patient in the hospital.
“He visited everyone. He visited every soldier and every family who was there,” said Col. Ballard.
He added the day he saw Col. Allgood turned out to be the last day he would ever see him.  Col. Ballard said that shortly after their encounter at the hospital. Col. Allgood was reassigned to Germany and sent to Iraq. Col. Allgood was serving as the command surgeon for the multi-national forces in Iraq. Col. Ballard said it was about after 11 months later that he got word Col. Allgood and 11 others had their helicopter shot down near Baghdad. None of the soldiers survived the crash.
“He was a great soldier, a great friend, and a great father,” said Col. Ballard.
He added the story of Col. Brian Allgood is not that unusual to be lost in war. Col. Ballard said that if we look back throughout history, from the Revolutionary War through our modern era, many great patriots have proudly served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We find people of all walks of life who step up and take the lead and pay the ultimate price. That is why we are here. To honor these people today,” said Col. Ballard.
He told those present that there is a Memorial Day debate and it is a healthy debate. Col. Ballard pointed out that many folks don’t understand Memorial Day that well.  He said that folks are traveling to the beach, folks are barbecuing, folks observe this time as the beginning of summer.
“We don’t do a very good job expressing the appreciation that these people deserve,” said Col. Ballard.
“We’re talking about this holiday that was specifically set aside to honor those that died. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty this is not intended to be a happy time. It is to show the honor these fallen heroes deserve,” continued Ballard.
Col. Ballard said that Memorial Day started off as Decoration Day in those days following the Civil War. The casualties rated higher than in any other war in olden times and modern times, according to Col. Ballard.
He said that following the Civil War the national cemetery system was established.
Decoration Day was a time when families would go out and decorate those graves with flowers and sing songs as a personal honor to loved ones, according to Col. Ballard. He said by the end of 1800s, the customs of Decoration Day had spread throughout the nation.
On the first official observance of Decoration Day, President Garfield gave speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Following the speech, those that had gathered that day decorated more than 20,000 graves of both Union and confederate soldiers.
Col. Ballard said to fast forward to World War I, it was the first mass casualty producing war in nation. He said that is when the name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. He said that in 1971 Congress passed the bill that declared Memorial Day will be observed in last Monday in May.
“Confusion continues because of the coming of summer. It is about those patriotic Americans who went and made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Col. Ballard.
He said we should honor our veterans each and every day.
“Bottom line. Our purpose here is to show honor to those people who gave their lives for our country,” said Col. Ballard.
He related a final story about an interview he saw on television with an Indy 500 race fan.
“She said this is why am here, ‘This was the last stop my boy made before he deployed to Afghanistan’ then she got a phone call to go to Germany. This was the last time she saw her son alive and she said he wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Col. Ballard.
Willard Storms had the closing prayer.  Bladen County Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson said, “We thank the veterans here today and God Bless America.”
Charlie Bridger was presented the flag for being the oldest veteran present at the event. Bridger passed the flag on to Rodney Baxley saying he felt the flag should go to someone who had seen combat.
“I’m honored to be one (to receive the flag) but most importantly is thinking about those that have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Bridger.
In his closing remarks, Disabled Veterans Commander David Brown said that Memorial Day is on of the hardest days he faces next to Veteran’s Day
“It means a lot. I spent about nine years in service. It means a lot,” said Baxley.
Baxley served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the 82nd Airborne Division in Saudi Arabia.
Brown said Monday’s ceremony was the second Memorial Day ceremony he has organized. He said,
“I noticed there was no ceremony going on and decided to change that.”


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