Military Appreciation Days fill all of May in Myrtle Beach area

Respect and thanks for the U.S. military, and for all who have sacrificed their lives, are merited every day of the year, but May has become an extra special month to do so across the Grand Strand.

The sixth annual “Military Appreciation Days” – presented by the city of Myrtle Beach and PGBA Inc., with help from various groups in the community – covers every day in May.

Many special events are planned this month, as shown in the list nearby, and they include concerts, a display of four helicopters by the N.C. Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association on Saturday and Sunday in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center plaza, the Traveling Vietnam Wall May 14-18 near Myrtle Beach’s Crabtree Memorial Gymnasium, and the annual Memorial Day weekend parade on Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard, this year on May 24 with Montel Williams as the grand marshal.

Bob Hawkins, a retired Army officer from Pawleys Island, said the expansion in this celebration continues in multiple areas, such as the number of exhibitors on Memorial Day weekend, with 25 to 30 expected this year, up from about 20 in 2013. The return of the chopper display worked out for this weekend because of that presenting group having another commitment elsewhere on parade day, he said.

Simply the increase in the number of service members and veterans’ families participating in Military Appreciation Days and “becoming actively involved” in events, all free for them.

“Our goal as a community and city is to say ‘thank you’ and express our gratitude for all veterans and military families who sacrifice so much,” Hawkins said.

A welcome mat goes out to wounded warriors, probably about 60, Hawkins said, from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., as well as the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

“All of the organizations come to support the wounded warriors when they’re here,” Hawkins said, also crediting such local groups as Scented Soldiers, American Legion Post 178 in Murrells Inlet, and the Myrtle Beach Moose Lodge in the Forestbrook community for community fundraisers.

Roger Pilcher retired as a lieutenant colonel after 28 years in Marine Corps. The Myrtle Beach resident is president of the Military Officers Association of America’s Grand Strand chapter and a member of the Military Appreciation Days planning committee.

He said this monthlong recognition has become a tradition, and that “everybody’s gotten more involved with it,” with businesses also “getting behind it, putting loads” toward the cause.

“It’s grown exponentially,” Pilcher said, especially of the parade lasts more than two hours. “It’s unbelievable.”

He brought up how Rocky Bleier, a Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War and later, a four-time Super Bowl-winning running back in the 1970s with the Pittsburgh Steelers, spread cheer after cruising as the 2013 parade grand marshal.

“He just sat there for hours and a long line of people coming up,” Pilcher said, for a meet-and-greet and autographs.

Pilcher also voiced the joy of the MOAA chapter’s scholarship recipients each year who also ride in a “big red Cadillac convertible” in the parade.

“The kids just love it,” he said.

Since his joining the Military Appreciation Days committee a few years ago, Pilcher has saluted all the volunteers who help with this growing monthlong celebration, and for Hawkins’ coordination of their efforts.

Pilcher, who began as a private in the Korean War era and served in Vietnam, also loves seeing wounded warriors who get treated to a “super vacation” week on the Grand Strand ... not to exploit them, but to let them relax and enjoy a week away from the hospitals with their family or caretakers.”

The rising number of these visiting honorees rises each year also pleases Pilcher.

“A lot of them have lost their limbs,” he said, “sometimes both legs. ... All of these guys are just great, and the only thing they want to do is get well and get back in the fray. They’ll say, ‘I just want to get back to my unit.’ ”

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