Veterans: ‘We should be here for them, to honor the ones that fell for our freedom’

Some hobbled on canes. Others pushed walkers. At least one was rolled in a wheelchair.

All made it to the end.

More than 150 veterans marched down Ocean Boulevard Monday morning. The oldest fought in the European theater during World War II. The youngest saw Iraq and Afghanistan.

They walked as a tribute to their country’s war dead, but also as a reminder to Myrtle Beach officials: veterans want a procession on Memorial Day weekend.

“There’s no other day more honored than today in recognizing those who have sacrificed,” said Chris Aranda, a 50-year-old combat veteran who carried the U.S. Army colors in the march. “I served in Iraq, and so there are a number of veterans who have touched my heart who we lost. … We weren’t going to stand [by] and not honor today.”

The march stemmed from a World War II veteran’s letter to The Sun News about his frustration with the city for not holding the annual Military Appreciation Days Parade on Memorial Day weekend.

The parade has traditionally been held on the Saturday before the holiday, but in September city officials moved the event up a week because of concerns about law enforcement being tied up with crowd control during the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest. City leaders also said they changed the date to accommodate Vietnam War veterans who requested the city honor the 50th anniversary of the war in conjunction with Armed Forces Day.

The letter to the editor declared the veteran would march the boulevard regardless of whether a parade was held. His peers agreed, and the city compromised, working with the local Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association to host the tribute. City leaders have said they plan to move the parade back to Memorial Day weekend next year.

Monday’s turnout surprised the event’s organizers.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” said Jack Platt, the 88-year-old whose letter inspired the march. “I feel very humbled that so many people came out. … We have a lot of tremendous love and great Americans in Myrtle Beach.”

The procession began at 16th Avenue North and continued south to 9th Avenue North. A brief service was held on the former Pavilion grounds with Congressman Tom Rice and presidential candidate Ben Carson sharing remarks.

Those marching represented every branch of the service, as well as every major conflict since World War II. They talked about how the event wasn’t about the ones marching, but those who could no longer do so.

“We don’t stand on the corner and say, ‘Look what we did,’” said David Puccio, an 86-year-old who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War. “This is our appreciation.”

Russell Woodward, 91, pushed his walker for all seven blocks. For the World War II Army veteran, the march gave him a rare moment to embrace some of his peers.

“Words can’t express it,” he said. “What few of us is left, I love to get together with them. And I was in no way disappointed.”

Dozens of onlookers cheered the stream of veterans. They waved flags, applauded and occasionally shed tears.

Jim Stratford, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who lives in Myrtle Beach, stood on the sidewalk and held one side of a giant American flag. It’s important, he said, that even though the holiday doesn’t get much fanfare, the purpose of Memorial Day should not be overlooked.

“The Fourth of July is bigger and it’s about our independence, but these are the ones who gave it to us,” the 49-year-old said. “We should be here for them, to honor the ones that fell for our freedom.”

Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.

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