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Veterans salute in the foreground as North Surry High School’s Greyhound Sounds Choral Group sings the national anthem.

Veterans hear it all too often: “Thank you for your service,” which is all well and good, but the key is to have a meaning behind that statement, Mount Airy Veterans Day program speakers said Friday. .

“Thank you – two words, eight letters,” said local radio station owner Kelly Epperson, a longtime host of the annual celebration.

“We say it all the time,” Epperson added. “Sometimes we don’t even think about it when we say it (thank you).”

But that statement only has real meaning when it comes from the heart, Epperson said.

“It happens when we put actions behind those words,” he emphasized, “and not because it’s an automatic response – it happens when we let our hearts speak.”

Other speakers on Friday’s program – including various Mount Airy and Surry County government officials and more – agreed.

“I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words,” said Staff Sgt. William Arnder, a recruiter with the North Carolina National Guard, said during the holiday service in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church on South Main Street.

Normally it would have taken place outside the nearby Mount Airy War Memorial. But rain forced the program to be moved to the interior site, in addition to the cancellation of an annual Veterans Day parade in the city center.

This didn’t seem to deter attendance, as people began to fill the church well before the 11 a.m. start time – or the spirit of the occasion.

“The greatest” of citizens

Friday’s crowd included a significant number of veterans from different branches of service and their family members, who were asked to stand during the event for proper recognition.

“We are surrounded today by the greatest of all our citizens,” said Surry County Sheriff Steve Hiatt, another of Friday’s speakers.

“We are here to celebrate our nation’s heroes,” Hiatt continued. “Thank you for serving our country and protecting our freedoms.”

Although not a veteran himself, due to his decision to go to college and then join the Surry County Sheriff’s Office at age 20, Hiatt said he learned to know many members of the department who are veterans and that he understood the many issues faced by former service members.

Still, he will always regret not helping himself, the sheriff said.

Some members of the veteran population are plagued with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), homelessness, unemployment and suicide, recalled Hiatt, whose father served in the Navy. .

“So let’s take care of our veterans,” he said, emphasizing the need to offer them more than words.

Surry County Board of Commissioners member Bill Goins, who also made remarks during the program, revealed that he had also not served in the military, but had first-hand knowledge of the problems presented.

“My father was a Vietnam veteran and I saw the hardships he went through,” Goins said, including health issues.

The speaker added that because of his father’s experiences, he fully understands the meaning of an old adage about servicemen who made such sacrifices by giving up two lives: the one they lived and the one they would have. lived.

“We have a debt to our military that we can never repay.”

Epperson, Friday’s emcee, was also not a member of the military, so it’s hard to really calculate that debt, he said.

“I have never worn a uniform, been wounded or served in combat,” Epperson said, “I have never shot an enemy or comforted a dying friend.”

He added, “I don’t know what war looks like…I just stand here as a grateful American.

Hope for the future

One of the takeaways from Friday’s Veterans Day program is that perhaps the sacrifices of the American military could somehow create a better world in the future, perhaps through lessons taught to young people – including those present.

Mayor Ron Niland, who read a city proclamation urging everyone to remember the valor and sacrifices of veterans, told the crowd what touched him most was seeing local students participate in the program.

The North Surry High School Air Force Junior ROTC Unit held an informative flag folding ceremony, while the North Surry High School Greyhound Sounds Choral Group performed the National Anthem and a medley of songs from service highlighting all military branches.

Jon Cawley, a city councilor who delivered the invocation on Friday, spoke of the need for peace, as did Epperson, who referenced the Bible’s message of “blessed are the peacemakers” saying servicemen who worked towards this objective will be rewarded as such.

“It’s the peace we need in this world that’s too dangerous for anything but the truth,” Cawley said.

Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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