MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
By the end of the day on Sept. 24, Lauren Peterson hopes to have raised the remaining balance needed to pay the rest of the hefty price tag for the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation bronze statue.
The monument will be placed in the Lejeune Memorial Gardens near the Camp Johnson entrance, where the Navy’s Field Medical Training Battalion is located, and at a $500,000 cost, only about $50,000 has been raised so far for the memorial.
Peterson decided almost five months ago, after she attended a Military Order of the Purple Heart Beirut Memorial Chapter 642 meeting, that she would raise the rest of the money.She began organizing the first North Carolina Country Music Freedom Festival to be held at the Deppe Agriculture and Music Pavilion in Jacksonville – with major acts like country star Joe Nichols.
"Doing things like car washes, golf tournaments and stuff like that are great," said the busy mother of two. "But when you’re trying to raise a half-million dollars, you have to do more on a bigger level."
Her passion to help raise the money comes directly from her husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Peterson, a decorated Navy corpsman who was badly wounded in Afghanistan after an improvised explosive device struck the patrol he was on.
His best friend, also a corpsman, died that day, but she said it was the corpsmen that kept her husband and the rest of the Marines alive, who drives her the most to help out the foundation.
In September 2009, one of Peterson’s husband’s best friends was killed by an IED.
"(Petty Officer 3rd Class) Ben Castiglione, or Doc Stiggy as we called him, was killed when he was trying to set up a forward aid station," she explained. "Stiggy and my husband thought it would be good to teach the Marines some quick lifesaving skills, just in case. Because of them, the Marines were able to save my husband’s life. Corpsmen go where the Marines go and we need to honor them."
With a degree in marketing, promoting concerts is nothing new to Peterson.
She used to put small concerts together at venues with local bands, but she has never done anything of this magnitude before.
She and her husband used to attend big country concerts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they grew up. She wanted to challenge herself, so she came up with the idea of putting on a concert with nationally recognized country artists. The Corpsmen Memorial Foundation immediately accepted.
"Concerts draw in a lot of people and with what we are trying to do, I thought this would be a great event to raise the rest of the money for the memorial," said Peterson. "From the start, I haven’t been alone to set this up."
Peterson locked on a WRNS 95.1 to help spread the word. She then went to the Deppe Agriculture and Music Pavilion where the staff gave her a few pointers to help get her started.
"(Deppe Agriculture and Music Pavilion staff) gave me tips on who to call and contact as far as getting the country singers here," said Peterson. "From there, I have received help from other people and organizations."
This is when retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle stepped in. Though retired, he still keeps active in the community.
Currently, he is the director of operations for the Museum of the Marine, member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Beirut Memorial Chapter 642 and chair of the USO North Carolina Jacksonville Advisory Committee.
Houle said local Onslow County businesses have been very receptive so far. Car dealerships and furniture stores are just some area businesses that have sponsored the event, but they still need more to pull the event off.
"The local businesses are great - they’ve been trying to do what they can to help out," said Houle, who is also helping out with filling vendor space. "Unfortunately, it is toward the end of the year, and most companies’ (advertising and sponsorship) money has already been spent. But, we are not giving up."
With expectations of drawing more than 5,000 people, Peterson is marketing the concert, via media outlets and word-of-mouth, to areas such as Wilmington, New Bern, Jacksonville, Greenville and even as far out as Raleigh.
With prices set at $30 in advance for general admission, prices increase to $40 at the door.
For VIP tickets, which cost $75, concert goers will have the opportunity to have, according to Peterson, the "best seats in the house."
With the event starting at 11 a.m., gates will open at 9 a.m. to give concert goers a chance to get refreshments and the opportunity to find a seat.
The event will kick off with a color guard, a flyover and a Gold Star presentation to the parents of Castiglione, which honors the parents of fallen service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Peterson urges country music listeners and those who want to get out and enjoy themselves to attend the concert for a worthy cause, September 24.
"Aside from Marines, not too many people now about the sacrifices and hardships (Fleet Marine Force) corpsmen go through," said Peterson, also a former sailor.
All the revenue from this concert, after the bills are paid, will fully benefit the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation and the USO.
"We already have a well-known country artist, Joe Nichols attending, along with American Idol season nine top five contestant, Aaron Kelly," she said. "It’s going to be a great time."
For more information, e-mail her at email@example.com or visit ncfreedomfest.com.