Veterans, Wounded Warriors enjoy relaxing trip to the Grand Strand for Memorial Day weekend

Will Lassiter didn’t know what to expect when he left Charlotte for this weekend’s Scents for Soldiers’ trip to Myrtle Beach.

“I had an itinerary, but I didn’t [know] what it would be like,” said the Army sergeant, as he grabbed a fishing rod to try his luck a few feet away from a dock on Garden City Point along Murrells Inlet. “This place has everything. You really have no clue until you get here. It was well worth the trip.”

On Sunday, “here” was the inlet home of Tamie and Jeff Boger, who played host to an all-day outing for the 55 soldiers and guests that arrived by bus Friday afternoon from Washington.

From 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. or so, veterans and their families enjoyed a sunny day fishing, boating, paddling, kayaking, swimming, floating, jet skiing – just about every form of water recreation. Some just sat in the shade and rested with a beverage.

The soldiers enjoyed lunch and dinner by the dock before returning to their hotels.

“I’m glad it was a nice day they could enjoy,” said Tamie Boger, a former Marine who has captained commercial boats on the Grand Strand. “I wanted to give something back. I’m fortunate I’m in a place in life where I can.”

Participants said Sunday’s activities on the water were among the high points of the whirlwind annual Memorial Day weekend trip, which began in 2009. Soldiers will return by chartered bus Tuesday, stopping in Wilson, N.C., for lunch at the American Legion post, where they ate Friday.

Monday, the soldiers will eat lunch at the American Legion in Murrells Inlet, attend a Memorial Day ceremony at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel, go to Dunkin’ Donuts in Myrtle Beach with Elks members and attend a farewell party at night with performer Charlie Floyd at Myrtle Beach Moose Lodge 1959.

“Things have been great,” said Scents for Soldiers founder and organizer Christina Shealy after returning with several guests from a pontoon boat tour of the inlet. “It’s all gone so smoothly.”

The outlook had been cloudier on Friday as the bus arrived at the Myrtle Beach Train Depot just a few minutes after a short hailstorm for a welcome dinner.

Saturday’s activities included participation on floats in the Myrtle Beach Memorial Day parade, a show at Legends in Concert and some time at Broadway at the Beach.

“They’ve been on such a tight schedule, I wanted them to have a chance to relax and take it easy,” Boger said.

The soldiers, all on either active or reserve duty, signed up for their trip, with preference given to wounded warriors. Some participants were picked up at bases between Washington and Myrtle Beach.

They were escorted into Myrtle Beach by S.C. state troopers and American Legion Riders and Rolling Thunder motorcyclists. About 50 people welcomed them as they arrived for a pizza and pasta dinner.

Talk-show host Montel Williams, in Myrtle Beach to serve as grand marshal of Saturday’s Memorial Day parade, stopped by the welcome dinner and posed for photos with several of the soldiers and guests.

“I’m going to try to do everything,” said Army Sgt. Kip Lee, whose wife, Naomi, accompanied him. “This is an awesome trip. I can’t complain about anything.”

Lee, a double purple-heart recipient, said trips such as Scents for Soldiers’ help the recovery process for wounded veterans. “If many of these soldiers need anything, it’s the chance to get away from the hospital and forget everything.”

Army veteran Timothy Hooks of Nichols attended Friday night’s welcome dinner with wife Heather. Hooks attended the Scents for Soldiers’ weekend in 2010 after having his hips replaced.

Thanks to the efforts of Shealy, who comes from a “military family,” and other volunteers, the soldiers’ expenses were minimal. Local restaurants and distributors donated food. Hotels donated rooms – the city of Myrtle Beach paid for 25 and Coastal Carolina University provided a plush bus used by the CCU athletic department.

Throughout the year, Shealy, a local relator, solicits donations and hosts fundraisers for the Memorial Day weekend trip. Shealy and volunteers make about five annual trips to Walter Reed Hospital near Washington to give gifts to recovering soldiers.

“Everything from the big stuff to the little stuff, everything adds up,” she said.

James Nickelson, a Marine who lost part of a leg in the Middle East, went on one of Shealy’s first Myrtle Beach trips and later retired to the Grand Strand, where he helps Shealy.

Though together only a few days, many of the soldiers form lasting friendships with Shealy and others on the trip.

“Once you meet them, they become family all of a sudden,” said Shealy.