Mar. 27—MAXTON — An honor was bestowed upon a Maxton man who is said to be the oldest member of the Lumbee Tribe and one of the last few surviving World War II veterans.
A modest group of dignitaries and family gathered Friday outside the home of 102-year-old Evert Locklear, who was presented a proclamation on behalf of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and was pinned and presented the Lumbee Warriors Association patch for his two years of service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and at the Battle of Hayes Pond.
"I can't just believe it," Locklear said on Friday when he was presented the tokens of honor. "I'm just surprised at what happened. It's wonderful."
The proclamation signed by Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. and Lumbee Tribal Council Speaker Ricky Burnett describes Locklear as being "an esteemed centenarian who has served his people and country with distinction and dignity, and continues to bless those fortunate enough to bear witness to his legacy."
The framed patch contained the Lumbee Warriors seal, which consists of seven feathers representing the wars from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and an arrow, which represents the Battle of Hayes Pond against the Ku Klux Klan, said David Locklear, Lumbee Warriors Association treasurer.
"We wanted to present that to him on his birthday, on his 102nd birthday, because he supported us and paved a way for all of this, so he's deserving of this and we're very honored to be able to present that," said Locklear, who also served in the U.S. Navy as a master chief.
Robeson County Commissioner John Cummings said it was important for him to be part of Friday's ceremony. He too served the country in the U.S. Army, and his father was a World War II veteran, serving four years.
"This is not my district here, but I'm here to honor as a military veteran also," Cummings said. "This generation is one of the last. The things that they went through, you just can't give them enough honor."
Speaker Burnett described the experience of meeting Locklear on Friday as "an honor" having served as a U.S. Navy seaman himself.
"He paved the way," Burnett said. "He went away to fight a battle. He left his family so that we could be with our family. We can be free because of someone like that who paved the way for us to have this every day that we got. He needs to be honored."
It's the honor that Locklear returns to God that amazed Burnett more.
"He gives all the honor to the Lord because he says without him he would have never made it. He's so sincere it made me tremble when he was talking," Burnett said.
A native of the Prospect community, Evert was born in 1918 toward the end of World War I. He was drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II. He left his wife and three children behind, and spent the final two years of the war aboard a transport ship that served all over the Pacific Ocean.
James Locklear, editor of Native Visions, reflected that during this time it was no easy feat for minorities entering into the U.S. Navy because of the segregated school system and disproportionate educational opportunities.
"Most of the minorities that were drafted here, they ended up in the Army. They had to take a test to get into the Navy," Locklear said.
"He has a wealth of knowledge," Burnett added.
By early January 1944 Locklear was at Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago undergoing training to become an auto repair specialist. He trained later at Camp Hair near Williamsburg, Virginia, before shipping off to Shoemaker, California, to board the USS Kay Perchwell. His first taste of warfare came when his transport ship docked in Hawaii and he viewed the damage Japanese pilots inflicted on Pearl Harbor during a Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack.
He also got a firsthand look at the devastation months later after the grueling battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the closing months of the war. His auto repair unit provided support for frontline personnel.
Two years after the draft, Locklear came home to Robeson County and finished his education to earn his high school diploma. He went on to work as an auto body repair man until the age of 97.
"I did body work on automobiles, trucks. I just loved it. I started doing body work on trucks and cars in '47, and I done it all my live," Locklear said.
Today, Locklear spends his days with his wife, Helen, at working in the garden at their home on White Oak Road in Maxton.
"I take him, and we just get out in the truck and just ride and check out everything," Helen said.
Panuel Locklear, one of Evert's 10 children, visits his father every Sunday after church and is in awe of the many years his father has been given.
"You can't explain it," Panuel said. "It's hard to explain because of his age and the way he is and the way he gets around and the way he talks. He's always got a conversation. He can always talk to you about anything."
Proclaiming the goodness of God for his longevity is what Evert talks most about.
"It's a blessing from God being 100 years old. I just love, I just love, I just love it, yes I do," he said Friday. "I just appreciate it to the highest. I can't believe that God is so good me because he loves me."
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.