Mayor Murphy’s Speech at the Salute to Veterans Ceremony

11/8/2014 Salute Speech

Pearson Park

Mayor BJ Murphy


Good morning. Thank you Mr. Tribula for your introduction.

Fourteen years ago Jan Barwick Parson, Mary Beth Dawson and Ted Sampley created a USO type tribute show on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was cold. It was windy. Did I mention it was windy and cold?

But a tribute group made up of Kinston’s finest dancers and singers and friends from Wilmington were there to do one thing, honor our veterans. My future wife was dancing that day and this skinny little, shivering college student held onto a stage light for what seemed like hours to ensure it wouldn’t blow over. The next year our country suffered through 9/11 and Salute! A Tribute to America’s Veterans made its way back home.

Over the years we’ve met DC police officers who gave much to honor their brothers and sisters in the armed services. We’ve chatted with, hugged on and listened intently as the sister of the former Unknown Soldier shared her brother’s testimony and how one man, Ted Sampley, championed his identification and a return to his final resting place. We’ve broke bread with veterans from all our conflicts and wars since World War II. We’ve watched Vietnam Veterans with scruffy mean looking faces who drive Harleys give the biggest bear hugs and drop the largest crocodile tears when seeing young amputees.

We’ve witnessed a United States Marine stand in perfect salute as over 500,000 motorcycles took over 4 hours to pass by on Constitution Avenue. We’ve witnessed motorcades for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama on their way to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We’ve heard the cadence of cannons in salute to the Commander in Chief as he walked up to the Tomb.

We’ve even enjoyed receiving eye witness accounts of Ted’s interaction with then Senator John Kerry at the Vietnam Wall, which ended with Senator Kerry flipping the bird and Ted being politely escorted away. In fact, I had the opportunity to each lunch with Senator McCain just a couple of weeks ago and it took every bone in my body to not just welcome him to Kinston, but to let him know that this was Ted’s hometown.

I mention these illustrations because I’ve been greatly shaped by your sacrifices. You see at the age of 18 I had the choice of going to college, getting a job or joining the military. I chose college. However, I stand before you today as your mayor because your sacrifices allowed me to make a choice. Many of you volunteered. Some of you were chosen. But all of you served.

Back home a tradition of honoring our veterans is deeply imbedded in our culture. Our community is proud to host the Walk of Honor, NC Veteran’s Home and tonight’s tribute show at Grainger-Hill Performing Arts Center. We can’t thank our Salute committee members enough for their tireless dedication to this cause.

As I wrote this speech many times I became emotional. Sometimes it’s very hard to verbalize or even conceptualize the love I have for men like Guy Skinner, the Eight Eighties, the Golden K Kiwanis and the appreciation I have for the Cantu’s, McLawhorn’s, Wade’s and more.

Years ago a mentor told me, “BJ, you are a combination of the five people you hang around the most. Consider your finances, your career, your philosophies, your spiritual life, your political leanings…all five of them influence who you are.” For those of you who I walked with today and those who are seated right now, I would be honored to have you in my five. My experience with you has always been one of passion, forgiveness, patriotism, duty, service and humility. These are qualities I want to instill in my own children and to share with the people of our community.

It’s people like my late Uncle Bill Page who served in Iwo Jima, who took the time to send me words of encouragement via handwritten letters of love. It’s people like Joe Tyson, who faithfully served his country and who continues to serve the people of Kinston today.

Because of you, this community transcends racial lines and property lines. This past week this county elected our first African-American Sheriff and you’re looking at the youngest mayor in the state elected on a partisan ballot just five years ago. You see, because of your sacrifices we’ve been handed the duty and responsibility to make these choices.

Because of you people can go to City Hall and complain without fear of retribution. People can make status updates on Twitter and Facebook challenging the status quo. However, nothing burns me more than knowing they have that right, but don’t exercise those opinions in the ballot box. True, they have the freedom to vote or not to vote, but in my humble opinion, we all owe our freedom to the men and women before us today.

I want to close with a word of encouragement and challenge. During my tenure as mayor, I’ve been asked to attend many Eagle Scout Courts of Honor. It’s on these days that young men receive witnesses to their character and their accomplishments, and then are bestowed the rank of Eagle. Less than three percent of all Boy Scouts ascend to this honor. And, it’s at these ceremonies that I’ve been honored to speak many times. And many times I’ve shared this philosophy of the combination of 5 people who associate with.

Not too long ago, I gave this philosophy and at the end of the event a man approached me. He handed me his business card and on the back he wrote, “The Combination of 5 philosophy is very true. Don’t forget that you are one of somebody else’s five.” You see I believe that although you’ve served our country that you still have a chance to impact the lives of our next generation.

There are many kids in this community that simply need someone to say, “I love you” or to challenge them to complete their homework. We have kids that need to understand what patriotism is and what duty to our community and country is all about. My challenge to you is to not give up on the next generation. These kids need you to pour into them as you have poured into me.

So, to many of you I say, “thank you”. To some of you I say, “welcome home”. And to all of you I say, “I love you.” May God bless you, your families, our city, county, state and nation. Thank you.