|Veterans and family members honored by Dr. James Bearden, director of the ECU Center for Leadership Development at ECU, gathered at East Carolina University's Veterans Day ceremony. Attendees pictured above, left to right, are Dr. Earl Trevathan; Jena Kerns, whose father Charles Gurganus was honored, Oscar Moore, Harvey Turnage and Bearden. Bearden honored 20 veterans by purchasing pavers for installation in the Military Walk on campus. (Contributed photo)
Celebration of veterans' service leads to rich experience
By Joy Holster
ECU News Services
The Victory Bell at East Carolina University sounded 140 times on Nov. 11, each chime commemorating the military service of one individual. At the ECU Veterans Day celebration, those individual names were read aloud and engraved on brick pavers purchased by family and friends.
James Bearden, director of the BB&T Center for Leadership Development at ECU, purchased 20 pavers now permanently set in the Memorial Walk on campus to honor the military service of his friends and colleagues. And he enjoyed a remarkable experience in the process.
by Dr. James Bearden
Col. U.S. Army
1956 - 1985
U.S. Coast Guard
LTJG U.S. Navy
1 Lt. U.S. Army
250 RKT BN
Louis W. Gaylor
1941 - 1946
Lt. Charles Gurganus
Ledyard E. Ross
Col., U.S. Army
Harvey W. Turnage
“This was a terrific opportunity and no better time to commemorate military service,” Bearden said, but also a good time to “celebrate so many parts of what ECU is all about: We are about service; we are about commitment; we are about honor.”
Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for administration and finance and military programs, said Bearden’s purchase of 20 pavers to honor his friends was “an outstanding example of the bonds that link those who defend this great nation."
“When one puts the politics of conflict aside, it gets down to the raw fact that men and women…went to foreign soils to defend the freedoms we hold dear. Jim Bearden understands that point, as he too was one who served this nation. For him to honor so many friends and colleagues simply demonstrates the depth of his understanding of service,” Duncan said.
Right time and place
Bearden explained that both the time and place were right for the university to honor military service.
“If any place should honor the military, this is the place to do it,” Bearden said.
“Military service is so much a part of life in eastern North Carolina and so much a part of this institution. With all the military bases in North Carolina, we probably have more of a military connection here than any other place in the country,” he said.
Bearden said he has noticed a resurgence of interest lately in commemorating military service, particularly the WWII generation. People understand that these veterans are dying off, that it is time to pay tribute.
As Bearden began to consider friends whose military service he wanted to commemorate, he found that each one had a unique story and a connection to the university.
He first thought of his good friend Tom Arthur, ECU alumnus and a board member for the BB&T Center for Leadership and Development, who is a decorated Vietnam war veteran. Arthur’s grandfather is one of the founding fathers of ECU.
That ECU connection led Bearden to think of Charles Broome, a former associate dean on campus. While attempting to contact Broome, Bearden learned of Broome’s additional family connections with military service.
Soon Bearden was thinking back to a program he presented for the Greenville Rotary Club, which at the time had eight WWII veterans. He chose to honor those men as well.
He then remembered a neighbor who was a retired colonel, then a friend’s brother and cousins and finally another close friend, which led to a total of 20 pavers.
“Each person led to another person who ought to be honored,” Bearden said.
Bearden himself, the most senior ECU faculty member with 53 years of service, is also connected to the university through military service. While serving in the U.S. Army, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, where he met his wife. She led him to the Greenville area and ultimately to ECU.
As he researched honorees, Bearden discovered things even the veterans’ families did not know. Sometimes family members discovered new details as well.
“Some of the veterans spoke very little to their families about their war experiences,” Bearden said.
One story told of a serviceman who raved about the fruitcake he received while he was serving on a Pacific island. The fruitcake always arrived right at Christmastime. The family had to mail the fruitcake during the summer to ensure its arrival by Christmas.
Honoree Harvey Turnage attended the ECU Veterans Day event, sharing news about his uncle who had been honored as a four-star general.
Greenville resident Jena G. Kerns found papers that gave her new details about her father, honoree Lt. Charles Gurganus. She wrote, “I knew he was in the Battle of the Bulge and that he was wounded by shrapnel in his legs, but I now see that he was wounded twice and owned a Purple Heart Oak Leaf Cluster and a Bronze Star….”
“He missed D-Day by about two weeks,” Kerns said. “He rarely talked to any of us girls about his time in the war but I knew was very proud of his service.”
The honorees and their family members expressed their gratitude to Bearden through e-mails, letters and telephone calls.
Louis W. Gaylord Jr. wrote, “Thank you so very, very much for purchasing and commissioning a brick paver in my name. That was most thoughtful…and I will ever be grateful to you.
“As one who served and was unscathed, I would take nothing for the privilege and honor of having done so,” he said.
Robert Murrill wrote, “Thanks for the purchase of the paver for Daddy. You are one of the many reasons I am proud to be a Pirate.”