Byron Pitts on "City of Faith"

Our colleague Byron Pitts just got back from Jacksonville, North Carolina and noticed something you don't see much anymore -- at least, not in New York. Take a minute and take a look. I think you'll be glad you did.

(CBS)
Jacksonville, NC is an interesting place. If you drive too fast you'll miss a lot or you'll only notice the tattoo parlors, pawn shops and fast food joints. Most people are usually in a hurry to either enter or leave Camp LeJeune: That's the US Marine Corp base in Jacksonville.

But spend a little time in J'ville as we did a few days ago and you'll notice a whole lot more. We went to Jacksonville to do a story on the 'pulse of the people' there and their views about the war in Iraq and the war on Terror. Katie Couric has an exclusive interview with President Bush tonight on the war. So we went to Jacksonville to sample opinion there on the wary and how the President is fairing. As you might imagine Jacksonville is a pro-military town. Most people there would be considered 'conservative.'

Here however is what I noticed: Jacksonville is a place like so many places in America where faith still matters. We stopped by a lovely little diner called 'The Kettle Diner' to interview customers for our story. When you walk in the door you're greeted by one of the friendliest and most energetic people you'll ever meet. 'Ms Lilly' (Lilly Cantrell) is the day shift manager at 'The Kettle." She's usually the first and last person you'll see at the restaurant. She'll greet you with a smile, find you a seat and maybe even hand you a menu. You pay her when you leave. And along with your change she sends you off with 'Have a blessed day." I watched her for 20-minutes and every costumer was sent off the same day.

Now I know in some places such parting words don't mean much. But in places like Jacksonville to say 'have a blessed day' is like sending a person off with a few extra coins in their pocket. I also noticed at that small diner... most people before they ate stopped to say grace or bless their food. That's how I was raised and when I was a boy that's what most people did at home AND in restaurants. I pointed out one couple praying to my soundman and he seemed surprised. "Most people don't do that,' he said. And you know what, he's right. In some places people might even give a funny look if they saw someone 'saying grace.'

But not in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville it just seemed normal: People thanking God for the food they're about to receive. It's a small and simple thing to do, but in many places in America it means so very much.

People in Jacksonville know the importance of the small things. In the Kettle Diner for example, you could meet a kid with a crew cut who might be killed in Iraq in a few weeks. That's happened to Ms Lilly more than once. Or there was the time a young Marine came in who'd lost a limb in this 'war on terror.'

People in places like Jacksonville pray a lot these days. They pray for peace. They pray for the safety of their sons and daughters who tread near deaths door in the dark and in the dirt every day in far away places. They give thanks for a good hot meal. With so much to worry about these days... they can eat that meal... walk to their car and hear a kind alto voice say 'have a blessed day'... and know exactly what she means. It doesn't really mean have a good day... or a bad day... it means have a day knowing who to trust... what to have faith in.

I also noticed there were plenty of churches in Jacksonville. That's a story for another day. My story for the CBS EVENING NEWS with Katie Couric is about how people in Jacksonville view this war in Iraq. Some of their opinions may surprise you. They surprised me.

People there still have plenty of faith, but after nearly five years of war, let's say that faith has been redistributed distributed slightly.

Check out the story. If ever you're in Jacksonville, go say 'Hey' to 'Ms Lilly'... and check out the sweet tea.

Byron
  • Greg Kandra

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