BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC — Army Staff Sgt. Miguel Wallace was a child in Panama when an American soldier handed him a can of C-ration fruitcake. Wallace said he knew then, looking at those soldiers, he wanted to grow up to be one of them.
Observing the Veterans Day Parade in downtown Beaufort on Monday, Wallace said he was honored to be part of that "special group, from the (American) Civil War on." Wallace, 52, came to the United States in 1978 and joined the Army a little more than a year later.
"We don't necessarily need thanks; we're just proud to do it," he said. He added as a truck of older veterans dressed proudly in uniform rolled past, "I see these guys and it's huge. They're who I give thanks to, the Korean War guys, the World War II guys."
Residents across Beaufort County took time to recognize, thank and celebrate veterans Monday for the holiday. National American Legion Vice Commander James Holland reminded the hundreds of attendees at a ceremony at Beaufort National Cemetery that Monday was a special opportunity -- but not the only opportunity -- to honor veterans.
"Let's not forget those who have served," Holland said. "Let's not forget those who have died, and may every day be Veterans Day."
About 300 people attended the annual Town of Hilton Head Island observation at Shelter Cove Community Park, according to retired Air Force Col. Blaine Lotz. The keynote speaker was Claudia J. Kennedy, a Hilton Head resident and the first woman to earn the rank of lieutenant general.
Bluffton High School JROTC Cadet Devin Oliver not only performed the annual reading of "In Flanders Fields," but added his own research to create a moving presentation, Lotz said.
The Beaufort County Department of Veterans Affairs conducted its annual parade through downtown Beaufort, followed by a ceremony at Beaufort National Cemetery. Capt. Joan R. Queen, commanding officer of Beaufort Naval Hospital, was the keynote speaker. Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. William R. "Skeet" Von Harten, former chairman of Beaufort County Council, was parade grand marshal.
"Men and women like you gave generously so we can live free," mistress of ceremonies and Army veteran Elizabeth Santagati said. "They must never be forgotten."
The audience rose from black folding chairs on the cemetery lawn when the Battery Creek High School band played a medley of anthems for each branch of the military. Some stood at attention, others smiled and waved their programs in time with the music, but all stood proudly as representatives of what Queen called a family that takes care of its own.
"Veterans represent a small slice of America and the very best of what we all can be," she said.