Retired Air Force Col. Phil Locklear was the guest speaker Monday morning for the Lumbee Tribe’s inaugural Memorial Day ceremony at the Cultural Center. More than 200 people attend the ceremony.
A group of military veterans from all four branches joined Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin in a wreath-laying ceremony at the veteran’s memorial. And, family members of Lumbee soldiers killed in war placed more than 50 American flags around the veteran’s memorial on the lake.
“It’s truly an honor to be here to honor our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Godwin said. “I think it’s important for us to pay homage to these brave men in uniform for what they did to keep our country free. And, we have to make sure we share their stories with others so that their brave legacies live on. We celebrate their lives today and say thank you for what they did.”
Dozens of local Lumbee, Tuscarora and other Indian veterans from Robeson and surrounding counties gathered around the veteran’s memorial by the lake as Col. Locklear gave a synopsis of the importance of veteran’s day.
Col. Locklear drew applause from the crowd as he described the characters that shape the United States soldier, especially character and integrity. He recalled the days of his youth in the 1970s, dreaming of the day when he would fly an airplane for the Air Force.
“I can remember being in the tobacco field and cucumber field watching those C-130s from Pope (Air Force Base) flying over head,” Col. Locklear said. “I told myself I would fly one of the military aircraft one day. Through hard work and perseverance I was able to do just that.”
Col. Locklear commended the chairman and the tribe for hosting a ceremony to honor the veterans. He said our country must never forget the sacrifice these brave soldiers made.
“They paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Col. Locklear said. “What does that mean? That means they never came home. We grieve with the families of these men and women today. We have to always remember what they did for us all.”
One of the oldest living veterans in the ceremony was retired educator Roland Coulon, a Mohawk Indian who was a prisoner of war in the Korean War. The crowd gave Coulon a rousing applause when he was introduced.
Coulon, a reserved man who shuns the spotlight, said he was pleased to see these veterans honored. Many of the Korean War veterans like Coulon were never recognized after coming home from the bloody fighting in Korea, which came to be known as “The Forgotten War.”
Coulon and the late Marvin Lowry were both captured and brutalized in Korean prisoner of war camps. He rarely talks about his wartime experiences, only with fellow veterans.
Wednesday morning provided him plenty of opportunities to talk.
“I just think this is wonderful,” Coulon said. “The tribe has done a great thing here. The soldiers killed in wars must be recognized. I’m just happy to see this ceremony.”