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Elgin dedicates Military Salute Memorial

Posted: May 27, 2014 5:16 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

A large crowd gathered at Potter Community Park on Memorial Day to dedicate the town’s new Military Salute Memorial. The memorial features seven flag poles, each flying a separate flag to honor the county’s veterans. In addition to the American and South Carolina state flags, the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard flags were raised along with a POW/MIA flag.

Elgin Mayor Brad Hanley noted the attendance of both current elected officials and several candidates.

“We are here to recognize the brave men and women who gave their all,” Hanley said before Elgin Councilwoman and Mayor pro Tem Melissa Emmons.

Emmons thanked all the sponsors who contributed financially to the memorial as well as all those who physically put it together.

“I consider it a privilege and an honor to be a part of such a project. I cannot take full credit, I can take just a little bit. I have used up all my free passes for this project. So, for those of you who helped out, you get a year off,” Emmons joked.

She also thanked council members Ed Smith and Dana Sloan, who served on the committee to form the project.

“Everyone has contributed,” Emmons said. “This has been a community project, and without our community, it would not have been made possible.”

Four speakers took the stand to make Memorial Day remarks, including James A. Rabon of Camden American Legion Post 195; Jodie Irlbeck, incoming commanding of VFW Post 11079; and Woodmen of the World’s Randy Barnett and Daniel Pharr.

“Nearly every day in America, men and women as young as 18, raise their right hand and take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Rabon began. “They do this of their own free will and choice knowing that they may have to go far away from home and their loved ones to protect our freedoms.”

Rabon called all veterans heroes because they put themselves in harm’s way to protect “not only a line in the sand” but to defend a set of core values so that everyone may “sleep in peace and freedom.” He estimated that more than 1 million Americans have given their lives in military service to their country.

“They sacrificed all their tomorrows, so young that they missed all the events that make life worth living: pursuing careers, starting families and spoiling their grandkids. I can personally think of no more fitting synonym for the word ‘veteran’ than the word ‘hero.’ If you remember anything else about the meaning of Memorial Day, remember this: every veteran is a hero. You know some of these heroes personally. They are your neighbors, your family, and you may see a hero when you look in a mirror,” Rabon said.

He noted that the Legion boasts almost 2 million members nationally, with 20,000 members in South Carolina. Of those, 6,277 veterans are from Kershaw County, with 500 being members of American Legion posts 17, 195 (Lugoff) and 203 (Cassatt).

After speaking of what the Legion does in the nation and county, Rabon thanked the town of Elgin for developing the memorial. He said that when he looks up at the flagpole, he will think of the million military personnel to took up the call for freedom for all Americans.

Irlbeck, VFW Post 11079’s incoming commander, is a U.S. Army veteran who has served two tours in Iraq. In her short remarks, she thanked all those who made the military salute possible.

“I’d also like to remember all the veterans and law enforcement officers who are no longer with us for their sacrifices and their families’ sacrifices that they have made for this great country,” Irlbeck said.

Following Irlbeck, Barnett and fellow Woodmen of the World representative Daniel Pharr, spoke.

“I would like to publically express my gratitude to the men and women who gave their lives to defend our freedoms,” Barnett said. “To the families who gave their sons and daughters to fight to secure our freedom, have they never returned to you back alive -- I want you to know that my heart goes out to you. You’re in my prayers and I celebrate the heroism of your son or daughter.”

Barnett said Monday’s event was especially meaningful to him as an Elgin resident with a son attending Blaney Elementary School and his wife working at Stover Middle School.

“Every day, I’m going to pass this military salute tribute, and I’m going to really be thinking about -- my mind’s going to come back to the remembrance of this day and what this day symbolizes. It’s going to help strengthen me as I go to work every day and (when) I come back home,” he said.

Pharr added that patriotism is at the very core of what the Woodmen’s organization stands for.

“It is fitting that we dedicate these flags and flagpoles on this Memorial Day. The American flag atop the flagpole serves as a symbol of the enduring spirit of all Americans,” he said. “The words of Ronald Reagan spoken on another occasion seem just as appropriate today: ‘We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared so that we may always be free.’”

Following the speeches and music from the Camden-based group Renaissance, representatives from each branch of military service raised the flags.

Hannah Potter, a member of the Potter family for whom the park is named, played “Taps” as the POW/MIA flag was raised. The service ended when that flag -- honoring those service members who were captured or reported missing in action -- reached the top of its pole, joining the other seven at the newly dedicated memorial.

Emmons said that the memorial’s construction is not complete. She said permanent lighting will be installed, and the area around it landscaped.

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