Relive stories of Cabarrus soldiers

Demand from local audiences has spurred Old Courthouse Theatre to bring back its production of "Paying Tribute" for a few Veterans Day shows.

The play includes stories from the lives of more than 15 residents and honors the men and women who returned from military duty to help build Cabarrus County.

It premiered in March as part of the Cabarrus County Library's "One Book, One Community" program, which featured Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," a collection of fictionalized stories from Vietnam. Repeat performances are scheduled Nov. 11-13.

"You would not believe the positive responses," said Anne Wilson, longtime theater volunteer and producer of the show. "I received email, cards and letters when we presented it last March, and many of the notes were very touching. They are adding some new stories to the performance this time, along with the ones used for the first show.

"It means a lot to me that (people) are interested. But it means so much more to our veterans that someone is interested in their stories and really cares about them."

Veterans' own stories

Anne Wilson's daughter, Heather, who has master's degree in directing from the University of Memphis, wrote and directed the show. Along with help from others, they recorded and transcribed about 14 hours of dialogue by area veterans who met during a series of story circles.

Concord native Lewis Williams, 64, graduated from Concord High School in 1966. A year later he served in Vietnam with the Army. The retired Cabarrus County Veterans Service Officer and his wife, Beverly, shared their stories for "Paying Tribute."

"It is the veterans' and wives' own stories - about their times and experiences during the wars - and the sacrifices they all made," said Lewis Williams, describing the show. "They will hear not only the stories but the songs of those eras as well. It's very well done and very patriotic."

Being portrayed in the play was a great honor that humbled the couple.

"The first time we saw it, we were very emotional and, yes, there were a few tears," said Williams. "It is one thing to tell your story but quite another for an actor/actress to be on stage portraying you and your wife and hearing it from them."

Mike Stubbs of Harrisburg served in Vietnam during 1966-1967. He volunteered for a job they called a "tunnel rat," which required him to enter the enemy's elaborate underground network.

Stubbs turned 20 in Vietnam. With 17 days to go on his first tour, he was shot in the neck by a .30-caliber carbine. The Purple Heart recipient left the Army in 1968 at age 21.

Today, he's a commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, chapter 634. His résumé includes stints in the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry and 1st Infantry Division. He also was an infantry squad leader and a sergeant.

"The play does a great job of showing how much similarity there is in all wars this country has been in - the thoughts and feelings of the veterans involved - and it shows the great camaraderie that anyone in the military has experienced," said Stubbs. "The players put so much feeling into their parts that you sometimes feel that you are back in the action. Some feelings are very emotional."

'Bring a handkerchief'

Nelson Lee did not provide any stories for the play but attended three of the four nights it played when it opened for the one-weekend-only show in March.

Lee is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 909 in Concord. He was born and raised in Concord but lives in Kannapolis. He served with the Navy in Fighter Squadron 84 (the Jolly Rogers) aboard the USS Independence aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1965.

"We had one pilot killed, and three served 7 1/2 years in a POW camp," Lee said of his own wartime experience. "Porter Halyburton was one of those, and he was from Davidson. I did get to see him again when he was released.

"The reason these pilots meant so much to me was the fact that I strapped them in their planes daily. I served 49 months in the Navy. My father was killed in WWII and I was a sole-surviving son."

Lee will be 69 the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He said the play is likely to be quite emotional for those who attend.

"I think everyone that can see (this play) should," said Lee. "It tells about the lives of local people who served in Vietnam and things - good and bad - that happened to them. I don't think the people of the United States can ever thank those who put themselves in harms way enough.... Everyone that attends should bring a handkerchief."