Chinese Students Visit Gravesite
Young Chinese visitors placed flowers on a Moore County grave, as ties between the red clay of High Falls and that of south central China continue to grow.
Their visit follows last year's dedication of a monument to Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, a Flying Tiger pilot shot down during World War II.
Chinese villagers retrieved Upchurch's body from the wreckage of his P-40 and buried him near a Ming Dynasty tower in Guidong, Hunan Province. Though the people of Guidong did not know the name of their American Pilot (as they called him), they brought wreaths of flowers every year for 61 years to honor him.
Upchurch was returned and reburied in the family plot two years ago following DNA identification.
On Tuesday afternoon, 15 young visitors came from Hunan to stand in the cemetery behind High Falls United Methodist church and place a wreath of flowers on his gravestone. These were students from No. 1 Middle School of Liuyang that had become a sister school to Harnett County's Triton High School following an agreement made during last April's dedication of the Upchurch monument in Hunan.
At that time, agreements were signed linking Moore and Guidong as sister counties, and North Carolina and Hunan as sister states. Other agreements linked schools and towns.
Triton High students made their own trip to China in May as part of the sister school program. They accompanied the Liuyang students to Moore County. The Harnett teens had stayed in the homes of Chinese families in May. Now they are playing host in their own homes to their Chinese friends during their visit.
Triton teacher Toni McKay organized both trips. She and Harnett County Commission Chairman Teddy Byrd came to Moore County with the group where they were met by state Sen. Harris Blake, whose senatorial district includes both counties. Byrd had been one of 23 in the group Blake led to the dedication of the Upchurch memorial in Guidong last year.
The first stop was Sandhills Community College, where Dr. John Dempsey, its president, stepped onto the bus to welcome them before hurrying away to teach his class. Dempsey was also a member of the delegation that visited China last year and is pursuing sister school relationships between his college and a college in Hunan.
After a visit to The O'Neal School, the activity bus arrived at the old courthouse in Carthage, where County Manager Cary McSwain and Assistant County Manager Jeffery W. Parrott greeted them. A banner outside the courthouse welcomed them to the county seat.
Blake called their attention to the monument outside that honors James Rogers McConnell, explaining that he, too, had volunteered to help a distant country fight off its oppressors. McConnell, one of the original founders of the Lafayette Escadrille, was the last American to lose his life in air battles over France -- a scant month before the U.S. entered the First World War.
To this day, someone from the French village places a rose on the spot where he fell every year on the anniversary of McConnell's death -- just as people from Guidong brought flowers to the mountainside where they'd buried their American Pilot, Blake said.
Then it was off to Westmoore for lunch and a stop at Ben Owen's pottery. Last year, Owen had fashioned pottery vessels from clay he and Blake dug from the bank of Deep River below the church. Those vessels went to Guidong last year where bits of earth from Moore and Guidong counties were mixed together.
Half remained there, kept in one of the Chinese Red vessels Owen had brought. The other half was placed in a twin vessel that Owen and Blake presented to the church at High Falls. Some of the same earth was also put in a Chinese urn that they presented to the town of Robbins, which has a sister city now in Hunan -- Zhaiqian Town.
Owen described the links between the ancient potters' arts of China and what traditional potters along N.C. 705 do today. He showed them his wood-fired kilns and explained how firings are still shared with other potters in the Seagrove area community just as had been done in China.
"Many kilns now are gas-fired," Owen said. "We are blessed in that we still have wood, but some day most of our kilns will probably be fired by gas."
Owen had been at his wheel when they arrived, and both teens and teachers watched him lift clay from the spinning disk into a vase.
The tour stopped briefly at the Robbins Town Hall to see the Zhaiqian Town calligraphic banner proclaiming eternal friendship between the two villages on opposite sides of the globe. Mayor Theron Bell gave each of them a map, telling about the town with the help of Leon Zhang, who served as a volunteer translator. Zhang, too, had been a member of the delegation last year.
They stopped for a visit to North Moore High School, which also has links to a sister high school in Hunan. Assistant School Superintendent Larry Upchurch said he expects Moore County students will have the same opportunity to visit China as those from Harnett.
The final stop was at the church in High Falls, where they gathered by the stone monument where Upchurch and his parents are buried. The Chinese Red vessel was brought out from the church and placed atop the stone.
Then the wreaths were reverently laid as selections were read from a Bible the minister's medical missionary grandfather had used many years ago in China. The Rev. Kenneth Buckingham spoke of the way two places so far apart on the earth were now joined through the heroic sacrifice of one man.
Then all went inside for traditional Carolina country church refreshments: several kinds of pound cake, ice cream, and -- the favorite food of the teen visitors from China -- hot dogs.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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