MOREHEAD CITY — There was a solemn silence Wednesday in the courtyard of West Carteret High School as students filed out and waited for the start of a ceremony to honor a former student killed in October in Afghanistan while serving his nation.
The West Carteret High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps dedicated a patriot memorial garden and plaque in the school’s courtyard in honor of former NJROTC member Sgt. James Allen Slape of Morehead City, 23, who served in the N.C. Army National Guard.
As students, staff, Sgt. Slape’s family, school system officials and National Guard recruiters gathered, the memorial, which contains a statue of a kneeling soldier and plaque in memory of Sgt. Slape and a plaque in honor of all WCHS Patriots who serve the nation, was unveiled. For the ceremony, the garden also contained an American flag flown at half-staff.
Sgt. Slape’s family members and friends sat in chairs, while members of the NJROTC stood behind them with a NJROTC flag.
“We are eternally grateful for men like James and all the men and women of our military family for the work they do to protect us from harm,” Col. Vince Giani of the West Carteret NJROTC said during the ceremony.
Col. Giani then addressed Sgt. Slape’s family, “All we can say at this point is that James will always be remembered here at West Carteret High School and in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.”
He then invited Sgt. Slape’s widow, Shawn, to come forward and place a flag as he unveiled the statue and plaque. Before doing so, Col. Giani put his arm around Mrs. Slape and saluted.
Mrs. Slape thanked the school and NJROTC for honoring her husband.
“I would encourage all of you to realize your life matters and to live each day to the fullest,” she said during brief remarks. “I know that I can continue on because of all of you and because of what he did (for the nation).”
The former NJROTC member died Oct. 4 in Afghanistan while serving with the N.C. Army National Guard’s 60th Troop Command, 430th Explosive Ordnance Co., which is based in Washington, N.C.
Sgt. Slape’s brother William, currently in the U.S. Army, is also a former member of the school’s NJROTC. He was unable to attend the memorial.
Following the ceremony, Mrs. Slape said she was deeply touched the students and staff went out of their way to let her and his family know that he was not forgotten.
“It’s really nice to know that the teachers here who helped form him into what he was care this much,” she said. “I think this will help the students see that their lives matter even after they leave the school and they will be remembered.”
Col. Giani, following the event, said it was important for the NJROTC to honor one of its own and that Sgt. Slape and his family will indeed be remembered.
“It’s part of what we do in the military, we take care of our own and their families, especially if they pay the ultimate sacrifice,” Col. Giani said. “He was a part of us and this was one way we could show our respect to him and to his family.”
NJROTC member Ensign Hayden Winchell, a junior who hopes to enter the U.S. Naval Academy following graduation, agreed it was important to honor Sgt. Slape.
“To me it shows that’s what you are willing to pay if you enter the military,” he said. “That’s the sacrifice you are going to be willing to give to keep a free country.”
Mrs. Slape said her husband will be buried Friday, May 24, 2019, in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s appropriate that his first funeral (at Glad Tidings Church in Morehead City) was held on Veterans Day, and that his final burial will be on Memorial Day weekend,” she said.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.