Solidarity in Remembrance: Smyth Co. town comes together to honor veterans

(PHOTO: J. Newman / WCYB)

One of the largest Memorial Day tributes in our region is already underway.

News 5's Julie Newman was in the town of Marion Tuesday and people she talked to say, to them, the holiday is more than just the unofficial kick-off to summer. It's meant to show veterans - and their families - we will never forget their service or their sacrifice.

One by one, more than 70 volunteers, with helping hands and willing hearts drove more than 1,000 crosses and flags into the ground of the Smyth County Courthouse. Each represents a fallen service member.

"One flag down here, I saw it this morning, he was just buried yesterday. But his family wanted a cross here," an emotional David Helms, mayor of Marion, says. This section, in front of the church, is dedicated to those killed in action... Marked with a gold star.

"I just think it's really important to bring back the true meaning and what it's all about. These fellows, they know what it's all about," he said.

It all started a dozen years ago, when VFW members realized Memorial Day celebrations were not reaching the next generation.

"I look out here and I said I see gray headed ladies and bald headed men. And it always stuck in my mind. And we had about 20 people and he said we need to do something for this to make sure that our veterans are honored," said Master Sgt. (Ret.) Herbert Johnson

Most of these flags and crosses represent men from Smyth County who served in World War II, like Fred Rupard.

"In 1942, i was in the eighth grade of school and i couldn't even get it off my mind to do my lessons or anything," said Rupard, who dropped out of school to serve his country. "I worried that recruiter all I could, and he wouldn't sign me up. He said, 'Rupard, you're too young.' I said, 'I'm more of a man that you think!'"

Now, this display is truly a community effort. The material for the crosses is donated by a local company, and crafted by shop students at Marion Senior High School. Volunteers from the VFW, Blue Ridge Job Corps, and student cadets and athletes make light work of an enormous undertaking.

"But it's really cool also to see some of the community members just happen to say, 'Hey, I'm downtown. Can I just come help for 5, 10 minutes. What can I do to help?'" said Olivia McDonald.

The flags will fly for about a week.

"I don't care when you come down here, there'll be someone here looking at the crosses, finding a loved one, putting a picture on it or putting flowers on it," the mayor said.

"You couldn't ask for anything more. It gets to you," Johnson said.

There are Memorial Day events all weekend long in Marion, capped-off by the grand parade along Main Street on 10 a.m. Monday morning.

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