The Carolinas Freedom Foundation honored local veterans Monday at the group’s annual breakfast in uptown Charlotte, highlighting two who served in the second Gulf War for special recognition.
And though the event was non-political, politics hovered in the wings on the day before the election, with prominent local Democrats such as Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts taking turns on the stage with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, fighting hard for reelection.
“In times like these, we need to come together,” said Trevor Fuller, chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. His oblique reference to the bitter politics was the most direct acknowledgment of the 2016 election, though attendees of both parties talked quietly in the buffet line and outside the Sheraton hotel’s ballroom about how glad they would be to see the election over.
But the focus was on the veterans in attendance, who ranged from those who had served in World War II to those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. American Airlines was the event’s title sponsor.
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Gov. Pat McCrory praised the N.C. National Guard, which sent soldiers to quell unrest in Charlotte last month following the police shooting death of a black man and served to help rescue people and clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“These are a group of men and women who volunteer,” said McCrory. “Our guardsmen and women represent the very best of North Carolina.”
Charles Edwards, a cardiovascular surgeon from Charlotte, received the foundation’s 2016 special achievement award. Edwards enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves at age 56, following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He spent six months in Iraq, operating on the wounded at a combat support hospital.
“I’m honored to serve my country,” said Edwards.
The foundation gave Stacy Pearsall its most prestigious honor, the 2016 Freedom Award. A former Air Force combat photographer, Pearsall served three tours of duty in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star and Air Force Commendation with Valor. She was injured by an improvised explosive device, and received a medical discharge.
Pearsall now focuses on the Veterans Portrait Project, in which she photographs veterans and tells their stories. She’s photographed veterans in 27 states so far, with a goal of reaching all 50.