How true this statement can be as I travel the roads of North Carolina visiting insurance agents spread between Elizabeth City and Murphy. A lot can occur in that approximate 520 miles from the eastern point to the western tip. Some of these trips can be routine and then others become events you never forget.
One of those “events” occurred on my most recent visit to the western part of the State. I stopped in Asheville for work there, moved on to Hendersonville to assist with Agent Training before heading on to Sylva and spending the night in Cherokee. I was a little down because I did not get to see all the agents I wanted too, and while in Sylva, I learned of the death of a friend my family made there while our youngest son attended Western Carolina University. “Mr. Joe,” our son’s landlord was quite the character and always brought joy anytime we were around him. The next morning was an early start, heading to Murphy to start my day with the goal of visiting agents there as well as poking around Hayesville (Clay Co) for a new agency, and then on to Franklin (Macon Co) before heading back home to Reidsville. Needless to say, this would be a long full day with a lot of windshield time.
Here is where the routine became eventful. My phone vibrated just as I entered the Nantahala Gorge area, and past experiences told me to just wait on that call until exiting the other side because service is weak at best – if at all. As I approached the east side of Andrews, I saw the missed phone call is from an agent that I missed the day before in Hendersonville, so I immediately call him back (via my Bluetooth headset). He asked where I was going today and I said Murphy, to which he replied, he was also. I had forgotten he purchased one of our NC Grange Agencies in Murphy and he was doing his weekly visit with them. We agreed to meet there before lunch when he anticipated he would be there. The day was starting right and making up for a missed visit the day before AND I could see one of the agents that I wanted to see in Murphy at the same time I see this person. I noticed a billboard located on the outskirts of Murphy announcing “The Vietnam Moving Wall” was coming there as a stop. It happened that this was the day of its arrival. The first couple of agency visits in town were of the routine nature before meeting with the agency owner I spoke with earlier in the morning. Upon arriving at that agency, I see the owner busy with an adjuster, but I am able to speak with Brandy, the second agent I wanted to see in that agency, who also happens to be the daughter of Lewis D Jones, the former owner of the agency. Our conversation started with “how’s Daddy doing and is he enjoying his retirement?” Brandy said I had just missed him by about ten minutes as he came by the office after participating in the motorcycle escort to bring “the wall” into town and helped them set up the traveling monument as well. Brandy went on to explain that Lewis had a very intense interest in this monument, as his brother, Corporal Loren Cecil Jones, name appears on that wall – Panel W29, Line 80. Lewis was always a delightful agent to work with and I had not seen him since his retirement. He always had his client’s interest first, and was the type of fellow that you would entrust with your own Mother’s care and financial well-being. In other words, a gentlemen of gentlemen and I was sad not to have seen him on this special day in his life to honor his brother’s memory. Although Brandy gave me directions to get to the memorial, I did not think I had the time to spare, knowing the amount of road remaining before me this day.
After making another stop in Murphy and having lunch, it was now well after 1:30 and I am ready to head southeast toward Hayesville and Franklin. However, a low tire pressure light aglow urged me onward, pasted my turnoff to take care of that little issue before it become a major one, to a store on the bypass that I remembered had an air pump. Leaving the station, ready to pull back out on the bypass, there is the sign. It is a small sign with a pointed arrow, “Vietnam Memorial Wall” pointed in the opposite direction of my planned route. Reasoning kicked in, Murphy is not that big, I can find the memorial, pay my respects, and quickly get back on my schedule. Sure enough, just a few quick turns and I saw the big open grass field, suitable for a small county fairground, with the “wall” setup. There is a motorcycle headed toward me and as it passed, I am sure it was our retired agent, Lewis. His helmet hid his face a bit, but not his frame or statue and I thought, “Well, I have just missed him again.” I made my way toward the entrance to the memorial. There is the registration tent for the visitors, then a second tent staffed by Vets to offer assistance to those trying to locate a specific name. The third and final tent sheltered pictures, letters, and family mementos from some of the fallen hero’s from Cherokee and the surrounding counties whose names are engraved on this wall. While waiting in the second tent, I looked behind me and there comes the agent from Hendersonville. I retreated to greet him again for the second time that day. As we talked there, we see our retired agent, Lewis and his wife return to the monument. We greeted each other and then all four of us proceed toward the monument together. When we got to the third tent with the family items and pictures, Lewis told us about his brother. He tells of how Loren was his hero, the special older brother who taught him many things, like squirrel hunting, writing. You see Loren was left-handed, just like his ten-year younger brother. Loren and Lewis were the only two lefties in a right-handed family. From descriptions Lewis gave of his brother, you could tell there was a special relationship between this older brother and his younger sibling. When we got to the panel W29, Lewis pointed to Line 80 where his brother’s name was located. Lewis looked at both of his fellow agents and stated, with his hand knocking on a door, that “no one ever forgets when those officers some to your door, and say Mr. and Mrs. Jones, we have some bad news” and his voice trailed off as you could see that day in late March 1969 return vividly in his eyes. Here we were, some 48 years, 6 months, and 17 days after the loss of Corporal Loren Cecil Jones, and we saw a man, simultaneously, proud of his older brother and yet a broken heart and deep raw wound, a result of this loss. Lewis stated he would be volunteering most of the weekend as well as speaking at the 1:00 ceremony Saturday. He asked us to remember him in prayer for strength and guidance as he spoke. Leaving the wall that afternoon, I could not help but think of the song made popular by the Statler Brothers, “More Than a Name on a Wall.” How relevant these lyrics are.
We probably stayed with Lewis and his wife maybe fifteen to twenty minutes, but that was my best utilization of time of that day, supporting and caring for one of our own. This experience turned a routine trip into an extraordinary experience. Not only did it show Lewis someone cares, it also helped us to remember, take the time to care, and invest in others. When we do these things, it is like an investment because someday we may need to draw on that account ourselves in our time of need. Just think of the blessing we miss many times by not following the Lord’s nudging arrow going in a different direction rather following than our own plans.
(Loren Jones tribute is located at http://www.virtualwall.org/dj/JonesLC02a.htm)