Smiling faces, waving flags and sidewalks awash with patriotism.

That's what greeted the units that composed the Aiken Memorial Day Parade, organized by the Marine Corps League James L. Hammons Detachment No. 939 of Aiken and the Aiken Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America on Saturday afternoon.

“We're proud to be able to co-sponsor the Aiken Memorial Day Parade,” said Ret. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Butler, 1st vice president of the Aiken Chapter of MOAA and a parade judge on Saturday. “There are only three Memorial Day parades in the entire state. We've had amazing cooperation from law enforcement. We hope everyone enjoys the parade, and thinks a little bit more about their country when going about their daily lives.”

Bill Dukes, a decorated Vietnam Veteran and chairman of the Honor Flight of South Carolina, served as the parade's grand marshal.

“I'm so impressed with the number of people that turned out here in Aiken,” said Dukes. “What impressed me was the number of young people participating in the parade. It was great to see all the young people, those who were spectators, cheering, saluting and waving flags. But even more so, the young cadets in the ROTC programs and band members. They had to volunteer to participate in the parade. It made me feel great and gave me some goose bumps.”

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, and its importance continues to resonate powerfully, with its influence making an indelible impression as the country pays homage to those who died while in our nation's service, said Cecil Atchley, of the Marine Corps League James L. Hammons Detachment No. 939.

“Least we forget that freedom isn't free,” said Atchley. “There are so many young people, those up into their 30s, that don't know what this day is for. It's not for veterans. We have Veterans Day. Memorial Day is for those who paid the ultimate price. We can't forget all the men and women who've died. It's great that we have barbecues and cookouts, but that's not what it's all about. Memorial Day is for those who have paid the ultimate price. God Bless America.”

However, it's that interwoven cohesiveness, the feeling that comes with being part of a highly disciplined, well-tuned unit that makes the United States military exceptional, said David Clerc, an associate member of the Marine Corps League, James L. Hammons Detachment No. 939.

“The thread of America is our soldiers, our airmen, our marines and sailors that are woven together,” said Clerc, who served in the U.S. Navy for eight years.

Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004.