Veterans honored and remembered at Conway service

Published 6:27 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


News Correspondent

CONWAY – Billy W. Duke (US Army 1981-1984) remembered and honored all veterans, fallen and present, with heartfelt words as he served as the featured speaker at Monday’s Memorial Day tribute hosted by the Town of Conway.

Duke, retired as the Conway Police Chief but works part-time as a Bailiff with the Northampton Sheriff’s Office, lives in Conway with his wife, Teresa, and his son, Colby.

Due to inclement weather, Monday’s ceremony was moved from the Memorial Park to the Conway Fire Department.

“I never had a desire to join the military,” Duke said. “I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, but after receiving my degree in criminal justice I couldn’t enter law enforcement because of my age. I had to be a least 21. At the I graduated, I was only 20. I had a year to wait.”

After considering other employment opportunities, Duke signed a three-year hitch in the Army. He shared a story about why he chose to enlist in the Army.

“I had thought about going into the Marine Corp because that was just the elite group to go into and that is the one I always said I would join,” Duke recalled. “I spoke with the Marine Corp recruiter and, ironically, Steve Burnette, that runs a business right here in Conway, was a recruiter too, but he was a recruiter for the Army. He knew I had come up there and spoke with the Marine recruiter.

“Fast-forward I went ahead and changed my mind. I didn’t go in the Marines. I went into the Army. I thought that was pretty nice. I enjoyed it,” Duke said, adding that he went to Military Police School at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

“It is one of the best decisions I ever made,” Duke stressed. “It provided me a real solid foundation for my career that I was going to start. If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, if we got any young people in here and you don’t have any idea what you want to do always the military is a good place to start.”

Duke then shared stories he found online about the “brotherhood” of the military, men and women bonded by sacrifice.

Retired Conway Police Chief Billy W. Duke served as the featured speaker the Memorial Day tribute held Monday morning. Photo by Danny Bowman Jr.

Navy SEALS Nathan Gage Ingram and Christopher J. Chambers attempted to board an unflagged ship in the Arabian Sea that was carrying Iranian-made weapons to Yemen. As they were leaving their boat to climb the contraband ship, waves reportedly widened the gap between the two vessels. Chambers plunged into the water. Ingram jumped in to save him. They were never seen again.

“Today, we honor the more than one million men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation while serving in wars and missions since the American Revolution. Each story is unique, and each story represents heartbreak to the family and friends left to mourn,” Duke stated.

He told the story of Private Furman L. Smith, who served with the Army’s 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. Eighty years ago, his unit came under intense fire from German forces near Lanuvio, Italy. Severely outnumbered by the enemy, Private Smith tended to seriously wounded comrades, even as others withdrew.

Smith emptied clip after clip of his M-1 Garand rifle and killed at least 10 enemy soldiers before he was fatally shot. The 19-year-old from Six Mile, South Carolina, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

“As proud Americans, we should all remember that our freedom is not free,” Duke stressed. “It is only possible because heroes, some from our own families or neighborhoods, have paid a high price. It’s that price which enables us to have ceremonies and observance like this in towns across this great country.”

Duke went on to share the history of Memorial Day, one that traces it roots to a parade of freed slaves and Union soldiers marching through Charleston, SC in 1865. It later became known as Decoration Day. The alternative name, Memorial Day wasn’t commonly used until World War II, a two-front fight against tyranny in which more than 400,000 American service members would die.

Duke noted that many service members rest in graves at the Normandy American Cemetery. Others found peace at Arlington or in their hometown burial places.

“Many more survived the war and raised their families under the peace and freedom that they and their brothers and sisters-in-arms fought so hard to achieve,” Duke said.

Monday’s event also featured Cecil Warren (US Army 1975-1979) and Town of Conway Commissioner Jeff Daughtry (US Navy 1979-1983) who laid the ceremonial wreath accompanied by the musical tribute Taps.

Others taking part in the ceremony were Conway Mayor Lee Duke who welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. Kelsey Bracy, Town Clerk, led the opening prayer. Everyone sang the National Anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Robin Futrell, Town Administrator, gave the benediction.

After the ceremony the crowd gathered in small groups to socialize, take pictures and discuss plans to further honor and remember military veterans.