It’s a tradition Jimmie Brigman has observed for more than two decades — each Memorial Day, he totes thousands of American flags to Richmond County Memorial Park and places one beside each veteran’s grave.
The Disabled American Veterans leader said Monday was his last day planning and organizing the yearly observance. The DAV will continue the custom with help from Brigman’s congregation, Calvary Baptist Church of Hamlet.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Brigman said. “I’ve been getting old, and I like doing this, but I’ve been doing this for years. “If God’s with me and I’m still here and I ain’t gone, I’ll probably help some, too.”
Richmond County residents paused Monday to reflect on American troops’ sacrifice. Residents and town leaders gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony in Dobbins Heights. Rockingham’s Memorial Day observance was held Saturday.
More than two-dozen volunteers helped Brigman place flags at veterans’ headstones Monday morning. Sarah Everett, whose family attends church with Brigman, said her 11-year old daughter, Kelsey Forester, asked if she could help.
“Oftentimes, people don’t remember the price our veterans paid for the freedom we have,” Everett said. “We take it for granted. Freedom isn’t exactly free.”
Brigman said he’s grateful for the generous donations that allowed him to purchase more than 4,000 flags for the annual tribute. He said contributions from county residents enabled him to buy the flags without tapping into the DAV’s budget.
“People in this county paid for every one of them,” he said. “They paid for the whole thing.”
Robert Oates of Faison drove more than two hours to Rockingham to lend a helping hand at the cemetery. A Duke Energy employee, Oates met Brigman several years ago while working in Richmond County.
“It ain’t every day you can meet a two-war veteran wounded in both wars — World War II and Korea,” Oates said of Brigman, whom he admires.
Brigman was a special forces soldier in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He joined the military in 1945 and retired in 1968 as a master sergeant.
“I’ll be 86 on Oct. 4 — I’m just a kid,” Brigman said with a laugh. “I’m getting old, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’ve been blessed.”
In Dobbins Heights, more than a dozen people gathered on the lawn outside Town Hall for a wreath-laying ceremony at 10 a.m. Guest speaker Edward Lewis Tender, an Army veteran.
Tender spoke passionately about backlogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that have kept thousands of military veterans from receiving medical care. He said the nation should pay tribute to troops who died in combat by taking care of the servicemembers who are still living.
“Vets have died waiting for help from the VA,” Tender said. “Let’s do something about it. In honor of our veterans who are still here on Earth who need help, let’s help them.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13.