Veterans service and struggles highlight importance of Freedom Balloon Fest

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The annual Freedom Balloon Festival brought big crowds and important reminders about the sacrifices of service members. (WTVD)

The annual Freedom Balloon Festival brought big crowds and important reminders about the sacrifices of service members.

"They gave it all for us to be able to be at a place like this and to do what we like here in America," explained Martha Smallwood, who served in the Coast Guard from 1974-1979. "I'm very proud of that,"

This is the second year that Smallwood has volunteered at the event.

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Standing in front of the Field of Flags, many of which honored service members who passed away in battle, Smallwood proudly discussed her father's service.

"He was a survivor of the USS Little," Smallwood said.

Her father, Edward Seiford, is still alive today and keeps in touch with fellow survivors.

"He actually saved somebody, held onto him," said Smallwood. "He had all kinds of wounds, and just held onto him."

The weekend can be difficult for family members of those who've passed.

"For them, every weekend is Memorial Day weekend," said Derric Grimes, the American Legion Commander for the Fuquay-Varina post.

Grimes, along with Carol Barker, the state's American Legion Commander, are just as focused on helping those back from combat and struggling with PTSD.

"A lot of people that will come back that are struggling are ashamed," said Barker. "So, suicide for them is the only way because they're ashamed to come up to their commanders or to their buddies and say 'I'm having problems.'"

It's a stigma they're working head on to address, encouraging families to be better prepared as service members return home, calling for stronger counseling option and for vacant VA positions to be filled.

"With the right support structure, with the right amount of just showing somebody that you care about them you can change somebody's life," said Grimes.

"Spreading awareness is absolutely imperative for people to understand," added Barker. "This person is not a freak, there's nothing wrong with this person. They're struggling."

It's a challenging discussion veterans are trying to bring to the forefront, to prevent further tragedies at home.

"Forcing that conversation, and forcing us as a country, as a group of veterans to be there and know that we're there to support them no matter what, that's what we're here for," Grimes explained.

"There's someone always to call; there's someone that will always be there for them," said Barker. "There's always a somebody."

Attendees could purchase a flag to be planted in the Field of Flags for three dollars. Those donations go towards AmVets, a National organization that assists veterans.

Other money raised goes towards Project Uplift USA. Those funds go towards K-12 education, children and veterans with mobility disabilities, and hosting the annual event.

If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD and is in need of assistance, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also text them at 838255 or click here to visit their website.
Related Topics:
community-eventsmemorial dayveteransnorth carolina newsFuquay-Varina
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