An overflow crowd of about 300 people attended the second annual Memorial Day ceremony held Monday morning at Cambridge Village of Apex.
The event began with a large group of veterans from World War II through the present day conflict in the Middle East being led in a procession by the N.C. State University Pipe and Drums and the American Legion Post 124 Honor Guard.
Guest speakers included Rep. Paul Stam and World War II veterans Bill Mitchell, Jack McNaughton and Bill Simpson and Miss North Carolina Hailey Best sang several patriotic songs. The senior living facility also offered a free lunch to everyone in attendance.
The event was organized by Josh Quackenbush, the life enrichment director at Cambridge Village, who is currently working on a book about World War II.
Stam, who served in the Marines, told the crowd that American has fought wars for very good reasons.
He said the United States fought World War II to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism and tried to imagine what the world would be like if we failed.
“What would have happened if America just defended North and South America?” asked Stam. “How horrible would it have been?”
Stam said the same was true in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East.
“We do it not because of a United Nations proclamation,” said Stam. “We do it to protect our way of life, our security and our families. Let’s thank the veterans who stood up (for America).”
Mitchell, who flew 30 bombing missions over Europe as a navigator in a B-17, recalled the many challenges the Eighth Air Force faced during World War II. He described one mission in which 28 of 40 American bombers were shot down in just 10 minutes.
He said those who never returned home from the war would be impressed with the type of ceremony being held at Cambridge Village.
“If my friends could be here they would be plenty surprised with the attitude shown here today,” said Mitchell.
McNaughton served as a sailor aboard a small ship armed with numerous anti-aircraft guns during the invasion of Normandy. His ship was just offshore as the first wave of American soldiers landed on Omaha Beach.
He vividly recalled the heavy bombardment from Allied ships being answered by a ferocious barrage of German 88-milimeter guns located in massive pillboxes.
“The fire was tremendous,” said McNaughton.
The battle raged inconclusively for hours with many Americans dying before they even reached the beach.
“It was chaos, total chaos,” said McNaughton. “No one was winning, that’s for sure.”
Eventually, said McNaughton, the heavy German guns were silenced and the invasion began to gain momentum.
“That was the longest day of my life, one I will never forget,” said McNaughton.
McNaughton said the best way for society to show its gratitude to veterans is to give them jobs when they return home.
“Veterans today can’t find a job,” said McNaughton. “They have spent a part of their youth (serving their country). The best way to say thanks is to hire them.”
Simpson served as an Army scout during the invasion of Anzio and was wounded three times during the fourth-month struggle.
He led numerous reconnaissance missions into enemy lines and was so close to German soldiers he could listen to them speak. Unfortunately, he was unable to understand them.
“I wish I had taken German in school instead of Spanish,” joked Simpson.