April 28, 2015
Hatteras veterans now have a place to call home

By KIP TABB



The room just off the dining area of the Hatterasman Drive-In was filled with about a dozen people on a recent April afternoon. There were men and women from their late 20s or early 30s to retired. There was small talk, a lot of catching up on local events and what the kids are doing. It could have been a gathering of friends, taking a break to check up on the latest news.

Then Hatterasman owner, Frank Miller, brought in the chicken fingers and fries and the meeting began.

Miller spent more than 20 years in the Army, retired, moved to Hatteras village and bought the Hatterasman Drive-In. That would be enough for some retired people, but to him the drive-in represented more than a business. To Miller, it was a chance to reach out to the veterans on Hatteras Island and to give them a place to gather, a place to call home.

The group of veterans that is gathered, though, is about action, about letting the public know they are a part of the community and what they have given to the country has meaning and substance. The action they have taken is already apparent—this is the group that raised the American flag in a ceremony one Saturday last month in a grassy area just to the south of the Hatterasman that now serves as the island's veterans' memorial park.

To this group, it’s about what comes next, not what has been done so far.

That’s what this meeting is about, and after a brief recap, Lorraine Burrus, who is the unofficial secretary, tells Miller he’ll need to fill the group in on what’s happening. “Frank, you really need to talk about . . . the park design, the brick walkway, and the plaques,” she said.

The American flag and the picnic tables that surround it are just the first step. What the veterans envision is a place where families can gather to enjoy a lunch at the tables in the midst of a small memorial park -- a park that will call attention to the sacrifice that veterans have made.

To these veterans, Hatteras Island is a natural setting for their vision. Kal Gancsos, who is organizing the Hatteras United Methodist Memorial Day ceremony, notes that “Hatteras Island has the largest representation of military service per capita, during the Second World War especially, than any other location in the country -- which, I think, is remarkable.”

Steps have already been taken to establish the park the veterans are hoping create. There has been a donation of 700 bricks—bricks that will create a walkway with engraved names—although that plan has hit a snag.

We have a large amount of bricks that have been donated to us,” Miller told the group. “Therein lies the problem as much as the fact it’s a gift. Because all of the places that do any etching so that you can take a brick and put it on (a pathway) and say ‘in memory of’ and make it part of a brick pathway . . . They have the bricks. They want to etch them. Whenever I say we have 700 bricks. We just need to know how to get them etched. It’s not the easiest thing to do.”

The memorial site is the most visible evidence of the veteran’s activities, but it is not the only project they are developing.

Pete Groom, who until recently was a member of the Dare County Veteran’s Advisory Committee, has been researching legal assistance for veterans. “I approached Legal Aid for North Carolina, our local chapter,” he said. “They knew of nothing other than their own services. But they acknowledged that there may indeed be a need for it.”

There are more immediate plans to involve the community as well, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the flag on Memorial Day.

“The wreath laying is generally a pretty short little ceremony,” Miller said. “Basically it’s a prayer thing. You lay the wreath and then it’s over. Hopefully we can migrate that into what is happening in the village.”

The timing of the laying of the wreath is designed to work in conjunction with the ceremony at the Hatteras United Methodist Church that has been part of the village for the past few years.

“About six years ago we started a Memorial Day service here in Hatteras,” Gancsos said.”We have it every year at 10 a.m at the church.” The service includes a musical performance, a raising of a flag, a 21-gun salute and taps. “The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes,” he added.

 The veterans who were gathered in April at the Hatterasman are just a small part of the volunteers working on projects, according to Miller. “There are actually about 40 people working on the projects,” he said. “The ones that were here are steering things.”

The next meeting of the Hatteras veterans' group will be Tuesday, May 19, at 1400 hours.

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