Marines cross through Myrtle Beach area during march to honor fallen brothers
Brothers in arms, no matter what.
That’s what the group of former and current military personnel marching along Highway 17 Bypass north said Friday evening. Several Marine Raiders marched into Horry County early Friday evening as they honor seven fallen marines killed in a March 2015 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash in Florida, and four Army National Guardsmen crew members piloting the helicopter who were also killed.
The group of seven teams of two, three or more – made up of 14 Marine Raiders, Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Navy corpsmen and other military members – passed through Pawleys Island into Murrells Inlet along the way of their roughly 770-mile walk from the crash site in Navarre, Fla., to Jacksonville, N.C., at Camp Lejeune where the group is stationed.
The seven ruck teams represent the seven Marine Raiders who died in the crash: Captain Stanford Shaw III, Master Sgt. Thomas Saunders, Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn, Staff Sgt. Kerry Kemp, Staff Sgt. Trevor Blaylock, and Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif.
“It’s all for them and their families,” said Gunnery Sgt. Andy H., who did not want to give his last name to keep the focus on the victims.
“We can never do too much,” he said.
Each marcher walks an average of 11 miles before switching out with the next team of memorial walkers in a round-the-clock operation. The ruck relay began March 11 after the one-year anniversary of the crash, which happened March 10, 2015 when in an Army Blackhawk helicopter crashed into the Santa Rosa Sound of Navarre during a night training mission.
The marchers are also laden with about 45 pounds of gear, including 40 pound steel plates bearing the names of the fallen. The group is also carrying the Marine Raiders flag and a paddle recovered from the crash site that has the names of those killed etched into it.
The walkers made it into Murrells Inlet around 6 p.m. Friday with a long line of cars tucked behind them. The three marchers handed off the flag and paddle to a group of Horry County Fire Rescue staff, who made their way down the bypass into Myrtle Beach.
Ed Courtney made sure the marchers were welcomed warmly.
“They’re a very worthy cause and I want to be here to support that,” Courtney said. “It’s just important to support our brothers.”
Courtney is a former Marine and now volunteers with the Patriot Guard Riders, which is a motorcycle group that protects military funerals, memorial services and anything else current and former military members need. He said his main job is rallying support for the marchers across the Grand Strand.
“They’re self motivated already, but when they see the support of the people it really spurs them on,” Courtney said.
More than a dozen people cheered on the marchers at an access road in front of Akers Discount Golf. Some waved flags, others applauded and some personally thanked the three team members. Jennifer Hench, of Surfside Beach, even brought two full bags of supplies for the teams.
“I was raised by a Marine and everyone in my family is military,” she said. “We were taught to respect this, and I’m teaching my daughter to respect it.”
Hench unloaded bags of medical supplies and ice packs into the group’s RV, and asked organizers if anything else was needed before finding the best place to spot the incoming marchers.
“If we can afford to go out to eat, we can pay for some supplies for them,” she added.
The march and its location can be followed on the group’s Facebook page “Marine Raider Memorial March.” And those interested in paying tribute during the march should check the Facebook page for route and time information.
Horry County Fire Rescue firefighters, along with Midway Fire Department, Myrtle Beach police and fire departments, and other agencies will be out welcoming the marchers and escorting them safely through the county.
“All we’re asking is take a minute. Take your kids out. Take five minutes of your day to go out, stand on the street and pay some respect to these guys when they come through,” Dennis Picard, Captain with HCFR said.
Picard has been with HCFR for 15 years and served as a marine prior and is an escort organizer for the group and strong supporter of the movement.
He said he has attended about eight firefighter funerals in the past 15 years or so and understands it’s hard to lose a brother. Picard also described the Marine Raiders as a small unit where the men all know each other, so the loss was very profound for them.
“It rocked these guys,” he said. “It really shook the unit.”
The journey honors the fallen and symbolizes their homecoming on a trip they were unable to make .It also gives at least one marcher a sense of healing.
Destiny Flynn lost her husband Liam in the helicopter crash. She said marching helps her – and the other six widows – heal and remember their loved ones.
“It’s a healing process for sure, and we’re all trying to move forward,” she said. “It’s also support of the other wives who lost their husbands.”
Funds raised in the march will be given to the Brothers In Arms Foundation, which benefits the families of the seven marines who died in the crash.