Reaction from Grand Strand veterans was mixed after learning the Memorial Day parade and other events usually held the Saturday before Memorial Day will have to take place on another weekend.
City spokesman Mark Kruea said Myrtle Beach law enforcement will be consumed with managing crowds during Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s unfortunate that everything is going to be focused on dealing with [overflow crowds from] Bikefest,” he said. “Remember that Military Appreciation Days span the month of May. ... I think we’ll find a way to have a parade and a picnic next year during the month of May.”
Moving the date of the military parade and events was one piece of a plan that Myrtle Beach city manager Tom Leath unveiled Tuesday to get control of crowds and violence that has occurred on Memorial Day weekend. It was the first time the city spoke publicly about plans to tamp down on crime after the holiday weekend this year where three people were killed along Ocean Boulevard.
Plans include one-way traffic on Ocean Boulevard, a dedicated emergency lane and a 40-mile traffic loop taking drivers from the Boulevard toward Surfside Beach, through Socastee and north toward North Myrtle Beach. There also will be a visible increase in police presence from other jurisdictions across the Grand Strand.
Tens of thousands of people come to town during Memorial Day weekend for Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Military Appreciation Days or to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach.
Bob Hawkins, a U.S. Army veteran who serves on the city’s Military Appreciation Days Committee, said the pros of having the annual parade and picnic earlier in May outweigh the cons of not having the events on Memorial Day weekend.
“One of my concerns has been the congestion, and in some ways the noise, has made it difficult to persuade some veterans to participate,” Hawkins said, adding that moving the parade to a different weekend could make it easier for those in Myrtle Beach to participate in the parade.
U.S. Navy veteran Bill DeVaughn, who works with Rolling Thunder, also said he thinks moving the parade to a different weekend gives the event an opportunity to expand.
“I think it’s going to be bigger, better attended and have more participants,” he said. “It’s going to allow a lot more of the locals to come to it because it’s going to be less congested.”
But Lou Mascherino, U.S. Army veteran and owner of Veterans Cafe, said he’s disappointed the city is planning to hold the parade on a different weekend.
“I feel like the Memorial Day parade should be on Memorial Day weekend,” he said.
Mascherino said he thought the parade should still be held the Saturday before Memorial Day, but moved from Ocean Boulevard to The Market Common.
“It’s an old Air Force base,” he said. “What better place is there for a Memorial Day parade than an old military base? It’s a nice area, it’s easy to get to and easy to get in and out of.”
Kruea said the city does not plan to hold any events that weekend as all personnel will be working near Ocean Boulevard, where most of the people spend their time that weekend – and where all eight confirmed shootings occurred this year.
The city’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center will still be held that Monday, Kruea said, adding that it is a ceremony specifically for the holiday and not an event like the parade that could happen at another time during the month.
He also said while he and some members of the Military Appreciation Days Committee have considered other locations, the plan still is for the parade to take place on Ocean Boulevard. The committee will discuss plans for next year’s event at its Sept. 25 meeting.
“I think we’ll have an exciting selection of events and activities to recognize our veterans [next year],” Kruea said.