American Legion Department of North Carolina Commander Carol Barker lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery Tomb of the Unknown Soldie on Aug 1. Photo by Eric Kruszewski

North Carolina department commander honors the fallen at Arlington

American Legion Department of North Carolina Commander Carol Barker visited Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 1 to memorialize fallen servicemembers with a Legion wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

More than 100 visitors gathered on the steps outside of the Memorial Amphitheater, standing high above a picturesque hill overlooking the nation’s capital, as they witnessed Barker present a wreath adorned with nearly 30,000 red silk roses, at the tomb’s base.

“This is the most amazing opportunity,” said Barker, a retired Air Force combat veteran. “I have buried so many of my friends from war, from suicide and for many different reasons. This means more to me than I can ever tell you – I’m just humbled.”

Barker was accompanied by her husband, Membership Chairman Bob Barker, and the Zajc family, which included Jim, Juli and 13-year-old Andrew, all of whom are members of Henry K. Burtner American Legion Post 53 family.

Jim is vice commander of American Legion North Carolina District 14 and adjutant for Sons of the American Legion (SAL) Squadron 53. Juli is president of the District 10 American Legion Auxiliary, and Andrew is the sergeant-at-arms for Squadron 53 and the SAL Detachment of North Carolina.

Having participated in a wreath laying ceremony for the first time, the Zajc family said they were honored and humbled by the experience.

“I’m very, very proud of our Legion family,” Juli said. “I was proud to have Carol become our commander. We worked very hard for her campaign and this is a wonderful, wonderful thing – to be able to have our Legion family support our Legion family. Arlington itself is very humbling to me.”

For Juli, the wreath laying holds a special place in her heart. She said her best friend, who is a Gold Star Wives of America member, lost her husband three days before he was supposed to come home from war.

“It was three days before their son’s third birthday. He was on his way home – his stuff made it home before he did,” Juli said. “He is (buried) in section 60 here at Arlington. So, this is humbling to me and being a part of family is a big deal.”

For Jim, a 12-year Army veteran, he felt an overwhelming sense of pride during the ceremony.

“It is a very humbling ceremony,” he said. “Service to me means service to everybody else. I don’t do it for me; I do it for the good of the country.”

“I’m glad I (got an opportunity) to be here,” added their son, Andrew. “It’s very nice.”

Thanks to the donors who go above and beyond in supporting fundraising efforts, Barker said the Legion is able to continue its long history of serving veterans and fellow servicemembers.

“I want them to know The American Legion cares and that The American Legion is here for them,” Barker said. “The Legion has helped me survive. I found a purpose. My Legion family became my support – they became my ‘battle buddies.’ They are there if I need them and that’s what we should be to others. Battle buddies, to protect.”