Dwight Bradham Sr. and his son, Dwight Jr., couldn't be together last year on Veterans Day because the younger Bradham was in Afghanistan. This year, dressed in their military uniforms, they stood side by side.


The two men celebrated the holiday by attending a ceremony at the Aiken County Veterans Memorial Park on Monday morning.


“I guess he just followed in my footsteps,” Dwight Sr. said proudly of his son's decision to pursue a career in the armed forces.


The elder Bradham used to be in the Army and retired as a sergeant major. The younger Bradham is a major in the South Carolina National Guard.


“I'm remembering my brothers in arms – the ones that didn't come back,” Dwight Sr. said. “What got me interested in serving my country was losing an uncle in the Malmedy Massacre during World War II.”


In 1944, members of a German combat unit murdered around 80 American prisoners of war in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.


“I've visited the memorial park there,” Dwight Sr. said.


While he reflected on his uncle and the others he knew that made the ultimate sacrifice, the Marine Corps League's James L. Hammons Detachment No. 939 conducted the Veterans Day ceremony. The event included a presentation of colors by the Aiken Department of Public Safety Honor Guard and performances by the Aiken Area Akademie Homeschool Band.


“We should all endeavor to serve our veterans as well as they have served our nation,” said Hammons Detachment Commandant Richard Schreck, who was one of the ceremony's speakers. “Part of their sacrifice too often includes unemployment and underemployment when their military service is over. Companies should understand it is smart business to hire veterans.”


Schreck also called on the military to address “the unique needs” of female veterans.


“The VA (Veterans Administration) must adequately treat breast and cervical cancer as well as trauma that may have resulted from domestic violence, sexual harassment and assaults.”


Another speaker, S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, praised the men and women who have fought for this country.


“It is not the nature of America's warriors to complain,” he said. “Warriors endure. Warriors make do with less. Warriors finish the job, no matter how hard, no matter what is asked.


“It has often been said that without our veterans, Americans would be speaking Russian, German, Japanese or, perhaps, Arabic,” Taylor added. “Without our veterans, America would not be America.”


Robert Murphy, who is the director of veteran and military student success at USC Aiken, gave the ceremony's keynote talk. He described Aiken as a friendly and patriotic city that helps veterans make the transition from military service to civilian life.


“Aiken understands investing in and caring for a prized national asset: the veteran,” Murphy said. “Aiken is a place where men and women who once wore the uniform of combat can learn to wear the clothing of the community. It's not a place to move through; Aiken is a place that we want to go home to.”


Murphy served for more than 20 years in the Marine Corps. He was a chief warrant officer-4.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.