Above a slight breeze and the rushing of cars traveling by on Highway 421 on Saturday, the lonesome tone of “Taps” could still be heard.
Ethan Deer, a student at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School, played the poignant military piece on his cornet during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Horse Creek-Midland Valley Veterans Park. His great-grandfather, John Bishop, fought for the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and a brick bearing Bishop's name is one of hundreds paving a pathway in the park.
The annual ceremony included a speech from keynote speaker, state Rep. Roland Smith, who said the park serves not only as a beautiful icon for the city but as a memorial for lives spent – and lost – on the fields of battle.
“To me, this is what this park says: We will never forget the service of men and women who gave so much,” he said. “We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let us not forget those who did not return. Some returned with their bodies broken and bruised – many did not even survive.”
Smith said that veterans are too often forgotten or unappreciated.
“Many lives were lost, many suffered and many are still suffering today,” he said. “You want to think of a veteran suffering – visit one of our veterans hospitals and walk down through the rooms and see those men and women that have given. Their bodies are broken, their hearts are broken, but they would do it all over again. They would give.”
Also during the ceremony, there was singing and performances by the LBC Middle School band. A wreath was placed in the circle of honor, where a pathway is filled with bricks bearing the names of local people who have fought in American wars.
Just 14 years ago, the park was, literally, a ditch owned by United Merchants, according to Cody Anderson, fundraising chairman for the park.
“They had this allocated for something in the community, but nothing was ever done,” he said.
“And we're still working on it,” said the Rev. Jack Scott, park chairman.
Cecil Atchley Jr., who served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971, including a trip to Vietnam, said the first person the park makes him think of is his father, who served in World War II and was wounded.
“They call that the greatest generation, and it is,” he said. “We have to keep having these things because we forget so quickly, so easily. I personally think it would be great if every American could serve in another country for just two or three months, to see what it's like and how blessed we are to have this great country.”
Atchley said the park not only honors veterans but makes clear to young people “what this is all about.”
“Without them, we wouldn't be standing here today having this conversation,” he said.
For Deer, though, it's clear.
“It inspired a lot of people; we were doing this for the veterans,” he said of the middle-schoolers performing. “We can miss out on some of our Saturday evening.”
He squatted down to get a closer look at his grandfather's brick.
“It's pretty cool to see that I've got my own grreat-grandfather on here,” he said.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.