Myrtle Beach-area organizers reflect as Veterans Day approaches

spalisin@thesunnews.comNovember 3, 2013 

Veterans Day, coming up Nov. 11, reminds everyone to thank all individuals who have served in the military or are on active duty, and local events get under way this week.

Also, plans progress for the seventh Honor Flight from Myrtle Beach, on April 16, for World War II-era and terminally ill veterans to visit the major memorials across Washington, D.C., and Myrtle Beach’s “Military Appreciation Days” in May.

Bill Krzyk of Surfside Beach, a coordinator and marketing representative for Honor Flight Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach, called the sixth flight, on Aug. 28, “just incredible.” He covered not just the throngs of people who turned out for the welcome home in the new Myrtle Beach International Airport’s new terminal, but the whole day.

Question: How was the reception of crowds – in the nation’s capital, and coming back home, which included the sounds of Festive Brass of Myrtle Beach upon entering the terminal lobby – on Aug. 28?

Answer: On our return to Myrtle Beach, I wish we I wish we could get an actual head count ... but I bet there were nearly 1,000 people.

What the volunteers in Washington, D.C., do is greet Honor Flights, not just ours, but all the flights that come in from all over the country. See www.honorflightgreeter.com – it’s for folks in Washington to volunteer, and you put your name on a flight. When we get out of the plane in Washington, that’s quite an event. On Aug. 28, we were the only Honor Flight coming to Washington that day, and for that reason, we got a little extra special attention, and not only from the greeters at the door.

Four of our veterans were able to place a wreath the Tomb of the Unknowns, at Arlington National Cemetery. And they gave a band for us in Washington.

Q. | How much homework goes into making each Honor Flight from Myrtle Beach work so well?

A. | The last flight was actually booked about 10 months ahead. This time, we have a shorter period.

Raising money and finding veterans: That’s what we’re after.

There are so many components that go in to it, and the chartered flight is the big part. Each flight is $60,000, and we are so grateful for the guardians who go with the veterans, for a $500 donation each. They’ll raise about 40 percent of what we need. The rest is from individual donations and fundraisers.

Once the word is out there that we have a flight, we are fortunate to count on people to come to us with their ideas for fundraisers. ...

For veterans to go, people call us – for their family members and friends, and members of their church call us. I have applications here, ready to go in the mail.

Q. | How quickly will the clock move in all this preparation for April 16?

A. | We have a good, solid 31/2 to four weeks, then things will get quiet until after Christmas and New Year’s, then we have to crank it all up again. We have to everything in place by April 1, with our head count and our funding.

‘Military Appreciation Days’

Bob Hawkins of Litchfield Beach, an Army veteran and volunteer for “Military Appreciation Days” since its inception in 2009, said the monthlong celebration, capped off by a Memorial Day weekend parade and services on Memorial Day, continues growing every year. (Visit www.militaryappreciationdays.com in the spring for more details on the 2014 schedule.)

He also estimates that including “all the different organizations involved” with everyone else from across the Grand Strand who helps, “probably close to 200” volunteers share in that credit.

Question | What aspect about Military Appreciation Days really stands out after five years?

Answer | I know the Memorial Day parade on Saturday, which is a big part of Military Appreciation Days, was bigger and better this year. Rocky Bleier, from the Pittsburgh Steelers, was very well received as the grand marshal. He stayed overtime, after the parade was over. He stayed about two hours, signing autographs.

Q. | How does the Military Appreciation Days planning committee narrow down the wish list for the special guest for each parade?

A. | It’s making sure who fits the profile, and we’d like to have a veteran and someone well known and well respected, so that brings us into the sports area such as Rocky Bleier, and performers from music and movies, or some other form of entertainment – someone who would attract people.

Q. | Without naming names: Are a group of candidates already under consideration?

A. | Our short list has about six names on it. We’re still in the early stage. We’re looking at the background and the experience of the individuals, and the cost.

Q. | What roles have you enjoyed in past Military Appreciation Days?

A. | The first year, I was primarily recruiting volunteers and I’m still recruiting volunteers. ... I’m also helping to recruit and organize military recruiters, and members of military organizations and veterans organizations, to come out and have a display of equipment and set up tables so we have an opportunity to publicize their organizations. That’s growing each year.

Q. | How pleasing is it to see Military Appreciation Days become an annual tradition for Myrtle Beach and the whole surrounding area, as a lead-in to summer?

A. | The city of Myrtle beach and the local communities are viewed now as much more supportive as a community to help service members and veterans. It’s the whole area – everywhere from Little River to at least down to Georgetown, and Conway, and the whole coastal area.

Q. | What meaning does Veterans Day carry for you?

A. | I think it’s similar to Memorial Day, but that is more solemn, focusing on our losses. Veterans Day is when we celebrate the success of our military and veterans, and preserving our freedom. And I think it’s a day when we pay tribute to service members, veterans and their families for their sacrifices. There’s definitely sacrifices there, especially with the repeated deployments we’re seeing now.

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