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Around the horn with this and that

This week’s column is aligning itself with an old saying in the sport of baseball as we’re going “around the horn” (covering different subjects….kind of like throwing the baseball from third base, to second base, to first base).

It’s refreshing to see our little corner of the world – along with our state and nation – returning to some sense of normalcy. COVID-19 had us in its powerful grip for the better part of 15 months…shutting down businesses, putting people out of work, prompting panic purchases of toilet paper and most cleaning products, and claiming lives.

COVID sent senior citizens, myself included, into a state of depression; for those of us with weakened immune systems due to our age, we feared the worst and, for many, the worst indeed came. It killed over 13,000 people across our state, to include 193 right here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, the majority of which were over the age of 65.

But thanks to social distancing and a face mask mandate followed by the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, our case numbers are plummeting. Last week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) reported that eight counties across the state, to include Northampton, had not experienced any new COVID-19 cases in a one-week period (May 26 – June 2).

Locally, the NCDHHS report showed that Hertford County only had two new cases of the virus during the same time period. Bertie reported three news cases while Gates County had four.

Those declining numbers are responsible for the basic re-opening of our state. Churches, restaurants, supermarkets, and retail stores are buzzing with activity. We can see people smile again after being hidden behind a mask for so long. It’s almost like America has awakened from a long, long winter’s nap, one that included a nightmare turned reality, and is itching to return to normal.

Last week’s announcement by the North Carolina Watermelon Festival Committee who gave a “green light” to the 2021 event is one huge sign that things are getting back to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. I was elated upon opening an email from Kay Thomas, co-chair of that committee, informing me of their decision.

The Watermelon Festival perhaps best represents all that’s good about the Roanoke-Chowan area. It brings together young and old, white/black/red/brown, varying political and religious beliefs, and different genders and lifestyles. For those visiting Murfreesboro during that four-day festival, it showcases our simple, yet proud, rural culture.

Up until last year’s cancelation due to the pandemic, I hadn’t missed a Watermelon Festival since its one-day, four-hour founding in 1986. I’m looking forward to its return on Aug. 4-7 and encourage everyone reading these words to attend at least one day of the event. You won’t regret it!

This past Saturday (June 5) served as another example of a post-pandemic world. Tri-County Airport hosted an Open House and Fly in. The event was well-attended and served as a way to promote a facility we all take for granted.

Earlier this year, the Tri-County Airport Authority held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally open its new terminal building. It was also officially announced at that event that members of the Authority – represented by citizens from Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties – unanimously agreed to show their appreciation for longtime Airport Manager Henry Joyner by naming the field in his honor.

Joyner was honored again on Saturday as several of his former students – those he first trained to operate an aircraft – spoke of the impact he had on their subsequent careers. Three who spoke are now commercial airline pilots while a fourth serves as a pilot for the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

For those of us who know Henry Joyner, he’s a humble man who shuns the limelight. They had to stop him on Saturday from his normal duties so he could come to the podium to be recognized.

The Open House also included airplane rides for the public. A handful of pilots handled that responsibility. My daughter and grandson were among those who “took to the skies” and, as fate would have it, the legend himself – Henry Joyner – was their pilot. The look on my grandson’s face, complete with a beaming smile, when his flight was over accurately summed up the feelings many had on Saturday.

And last, but certainly not least, I hope everyone took a moment this past Sunday to remember the brave Allied Forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Better known as D-Day, over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed that day on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the French coast, all of it heavily fortified by the Germans. More than 4,000 Allied troops, to include 2,000 Americans at Omaha Beach, lost their lives in that invasion. Many didn’t make it off their landing crafts, which fell under heavy fire from the enemy. Others, who made it onshore, then faced numerous obstacles, to include barb wire, while German bullets whizzed past.

Less than a week later, on June 11, 1944, the beaches were fully secured and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.

By the end of that month, the Allied forces numbered 850,000 and they marched across France and liberated the country from the Germans, which eventually led to the Nazis surrender on May 8, 1945. My now late father – Army PFC Hinton “Ray” Bryant – was among those post D-Day infantrymen that left their footprints in the French soil.

We just celebrated Memorial Day on May 31, a time to show our respect to our brave men and women in uniform that paid for our freedom with their blood. We never need to forget the sacrifices they made….the sacrifices their families made.

To the members of our military – past and present, living or dead – thank-you for your service and thank-you for my freedom!!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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