Myrtle Beach’s “Military Appreciation Days” is more than a couple of days toward the end of May; it’s grown into a monthlong recognition.
Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, among a team of personnel who have helped make this celebration a Myrtle Beach signature tradition, elaborated on the extent of activities, those confirmed and in the works.
Besides events centered around Memorial Day weekend, other outings are being scheduled, Kruea said. Planning continues, for example, on a geocaching activity – one for each service branch – as well as a showing of “Back to the Battlefield,” a film produced at Coastal Carolina University about a D-Day veteran’s return to Omaha Beach, and a free, afternoon concert on May 11 in Myrtle Beach’s Plyler Park, near the SkyWheel.
Kruea said the city also will welcome contingents of 200 Indian Army personnel and 100 soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., on May 5.
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Question | Why is it important to let everyone know that Military Appreciation Days has become a monthlong celebration, a tradition that goes beyond – and before – Memorial Day weekend, an observance to remember everyone who’s given his or her life in service for our country, and really, the world?
Answer | Myrtle Beach was a military town for 50 years, and 28,000 veterans now call Horry County home. We are proud to honor everyone who has served our country and who is serving today, and their families, too. Setting aside a month to say “thanks” and recognize their sacrifices isn’t sufficient, really, but it’s a start.
May also is National Military Appreciation Month. As a community, we’re coming together to show our appreciation to these men and women. This year, during the parade and Memorial Day service, we are recognizing a local veteran from each of the major wars: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom.
Q. | Since Military Appreciation Days’ start in 2009, what trends have emerged in the public’s embrace of this signature Myrtle Beach sign of spring leading into summer? What activities have taken off?
A. | The picnic and military exhibits get better every year. And the picnic is free for military and families. We’re thinking that the Andrew Thielen Big Band concert will be an annual event. And we have some fun stuff, too, like the beard and moustache contest and the MRE (meals-ready-to-eat) sampling. Of course, the Memorial Day service on Monday at the Convention Center is one of the stars. That’s always a well-done, touching event.
Q. | Amid this 20th anniversary year of the closure of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, and its rebirth and renewal through The Market Common and a slew of neighborhoods, how do the recent activities and reunion of personnel carry over so naturally into Military Appreciation Days this year?
A. | We have so many people who came to Myrtle Beach with the Air Force, then came back later in life because they liked the area and wanted to live here permanently. Even though the base has been redeveloped, we’ve worked hard to preserve its history, and the former base personnel seem to appreciate that. Warbird Park, on Farrow Parkway, near South Kings Highway, is extremely popular.
The more than 150 historical markers scattered around preserve the base and its people for future generations. The Wall of Service has taken off, too. We may need to build a second wall before long. The anniversary of the closing has been a good reminder for everyone of our military heritage. That’s not something we want to lose.
Q. | Military Appreciation Days is more than just a city of Myrtle Beach endeavor. How has this grown into a Grand Strand community contributing to a bigger cause?
A. | The response from the local military and veterans community has been awesome. Of all the things we do throughout the year, Military Appreciation Days has the broadest support and reach. We’ve had veterans of every service involved, from every part of the Grand Strand. It’s not just a “Myrtle Beach” thing.
We bring Wounded Warriors to town for some R-and-R (rest and relaxation). The Blue Star and Gold Star Mothers are involved. Our local recruiters and the National Guard are part of it, along with Rolling Thunder and the veterans’ organizations. We’ve met the greatest people through this. The businesses have stepped up, too, with discounts for military folks.
Q. | With the Pittsburgh Steelers meriting a slice – perhaps the biggest piece – of the pie as the “home” NFL team on the Grand Strand, how special is landing one of the Black and Gold 1970s dynasty’s Pro Football Hall of Famers in former running back Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam War veteran, as the grand marshal for the parade May 25?
A. | If you didn’t know that Myrtle Beach was in South Carolina, you’d think it was a suburb of Pittsburgh. Rocky Bleier’s story crosses so many areas: Super Bowl star, Army veteran, wounded soldier, and a very nice guy, too. He’s really a natural fit for this event, and we’ve heard such a positive response from the Steelers’ fans. Like today’s wounded warriors, he came home from the war, had to fit back in, get in shape and succeed. We owe these people a lot.