In the Name of Freedom

For years folks zipped down Harrison Avenue near Cary Parkway with nary a glance to the small bronze sculpture that honored veterans. 

Today, it is hard to miss the gleaming white spire that is the Triangle’s tallest veterans’ memorial.

A collaborative effort between SAS of Cary and the National Veterans Freedom Park Foundation, the memorial was unveiled earlier this year as the Town of Cary’s newest park.

The 12.6-acre Veterans Freedom Park features a courtyard of service flags and benches beckoning visitors to come sit for a moment of reflection. Inside the courtyard, the five seals denoting each branch of the military encircle the 90-foot granite spire.

It is eye-catching. It is impressive. And for the thousands of veterans living and working in Western Wake County, whom we honor this Veteran’s Day … it is appreciated.

Left: Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Lacy Jo Evans, at the Veterans Freedom Park in Cary. A combat veteran, she says, “I helped prove that women can be out there.”

“Something that tall — it makes a statement, it really does,” said retired Sgt. Lacy Jo Evans, U.S. Marine Corps. “It’s really nice to be in an area where they appreciate us and want to help out veterans.”

Western Wake County is fortunate to be home to veterans like Evans, a 28-year-old Apex resident, and 94-year-old Norma Schrader of Cary, a World War II veteran.

Both are pioneers of their time, and continue to serve our country by serving its veterans.

The Call to Serve
A self-professed “small town cowgirl,” Evans says it’s still hard to believe the turns her life has taken since she joined the Marine Corps. She’s been to war in the desert and is soon to become a first-generation college graduate.

“It’s more than what I ever expected. It’s given me a mental toughness I never thought was imaginable. No matter where I go, I meet a Marine and it’s always, ‘Semper Fi,’” Evans said proudly. “I could go anywhere in the world and I would have a family, because I was part of the military and the Marine Corps.”

Left: During Cary’s Lazy Daze festival in August, Evans handed out Buddy Poppies for Cary VFW Post 7383, where she is the junior vice commander. Poppy proceeds go toward the veterans’ relief fund, to assist in times of need.

Right: Veterans who serve, and have served, in all branches of the U.S. military were honored May 21 during the dedication ceremony of a 90-foot white granite spire at Cary’s Veterans Freedom Park. Hundreds gathered at the start of that Memorial Day weekend to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed for freedom. SAS Institute and the National Veterans Freedom Park Foundation paid for the planning and construction of the 13-acre park and monument, located at the corner of Cary Parkway and Harrison Avenue.

Growing up in the small logging community of Amboy, Wash., near the base of Mount St. Helens, Evans was more accustomed to riding bulls than bicycles. She began barrel racing at age 3 and was in rodeo by the time she was 5.

The fact that she was one of few girls competing in the ring didn’t faze her. She was tough, and she liked the respect that came from excelling in a man’s sport.

The rodeo community also fostered in Evans a great sense of patriotism. She remembers the honor and respect veterans were shown at every event.

Then came 9/11. Evans was a freshman in high school, and the call to serve took root.

“I didn’t like the vulnerability I felt from that. I would do anything to protect people from having to feel that way,” she recalled. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Trained as a heavy equipment operator, Evans shipped out to Afghanistan on Memorial Day weekend 2009. After six months of fortifying Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province, she returned stateside only to be sent back seven months later into the more dangerous northern regions of the country.

Women weren’t supposed to be in firefights and since heavy equipment is a big target, Evans was initially excluded from small platoon deployments to form new outposts.

But her comrades went to bat for her, telling the command she was the smartest, the fastest, the one who would work the hardest without complaint — she was the Marine they wanted by their side. So she went, paving the way in her tank, for other troops and for other women.

“I’ve been shot at by small arms fire, I’ve been mortared at and had the mortar nearly hit me.But it’s amazing how fast your training kicks in, and your reaction time. It’s good because it saved my life a couple of times,” said Evans. “I helped prove women can be out there, that we won’t all run from gunfire.”

After two meritorious promotions, Evans retired from active duty but not from serving her country. As a student in the Peace, War and Defense program at UNC-Chapel Hill, she has been able to intern in Washington, D.C., and work for the American Council on Education in its veterans’ affairs programs. She plans to pursue that work to help other veterans achieve their educational goals.

“I feel like veterans have fought for the rights I have and the privileges I have and the benefits I have, and I feel like it’s up to us to continue doing that (for others),” Evans said.

The Many Faces of Freedom
Norma Schrader admits it was the parades, the posters, and a desire to get away from home at 25 years old that led her into a recruiting office in New Jersey back in 1944.

She joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the U.S. Navy, serving in both World War II and the Korean War as a master-at-arms.

Norma Schrader served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the U.S. Navy, in both World War II and the Korean War as a master-at-arms.

Schrader was in charge of making sure the WAVES barracks stayed inspection-ready and that the mess hall ran smoothly. In her day, there was a lot that women weren’t allowed to do, but she is proud of her 20 years of service to her country.

“I can’t give you experiences like the women who worked in the Army, Air Force or Marines … (but) we did what our country needed us to do. We’re veterans,” she said proudly.

Armed with her iPad, this spry 94-year-old remains active in veterans’ affairs from her Cary apartment. As a member of the WAVES National Triangle Seagals and the American Legion, she keeps information moving, building camaraderie between generations of veterans.

She donned a Navy T-shirt at a recent Morrisville Town Council meeting to show support for efforts to build a veterans’ memorial there.

“I think there are people out there giving, probably more than they can afford to give, and I just think somebody should thank them in some way and recognize them,” explained Schrader.

Memorial or not, a “thank you” can make a big difference to those who have served our country, and reminds us that after all, our freedom is not free.

1 Comment

  • Darlene Tryon says:

    Can you please provide me with an update on Norma Schrader. She is a Woman Veteran Pioneer who has paved the way for so many of us to continue to service. I’m a Retired Air Force Veteran who was intrigued by her story and would love to hear more.

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