Pelion, SC (Paul Kirby) – Several hundred guests joined the Pelion Ruritan Club members as they held their annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans' Memorial of the small western Lexington county town. Each year, a huge crowd gathers, doubling the town, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could enjoy so many of the freedoms that we often take for granted as Americans.
This year’s memorial service, like those of past years, was held on a bright, clear, spring day. A slight breeze was blowing and birds chirped in the distance, as the throngs gathered in every level of dress to honor the fallen, change the faded flag for a bright new version, and lay a wreath of honor in front of the cold, granite stone that is inscribed simply, “In honor of those who have served, and in memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The Pelion Ruritan’s memorial is one that appears far and above many others in both make-up and form. The granite was crafted by Ron Clamp, one of the world’s premier stone carvers, who happens to call Pelion Home. The beautiful rolling hill that sits behind the site itself was actually the lead up to the old railroad bed at one time. The trees, large and stately for the poor soils of Pelion, provide not only a cooling shade, but a contrast of light and dark, that seems appropriate for such a solemn spot.
Annually, a select group from the Pelion High School band plays a selection of appropriate, patriotic tunes, and politicians turn out to pump hands and make speeches that seem appropriate for the day. The Soldiers of Faith, a local Southern Gospel group, sing both patriotic and spiritual songs in gorgeous four-part harmony. Old soldiers don uniforms that rarely come out, and the SC Patriot Guard Riders stand vigilant, flags by each of their sides, as a reminder that everyone should conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. It truly is a solemn, yet wonderful day to reflect and remember.
This year’s keynote address was given by Colonel Thomas Sheehan, Commander 165th Regiment Battalion, of the US Army. A man with over 30 years of service to our country, his remarks were fitting, and at one point, had many in the crowd at the point of tears as he read the names of soldiers who had died while serving in the numerous campaigns he’d participated in. His very personal memories of each made the day more real, more about flesh and blood, men and women, much more than just some bricks engraved with names of the area’s lost sons, a wreath of red, white, and blue, and a song or two.
After all the speeches were made, all the guests were recognized, and after all who have served had stood, a team from the high school’s JROTC slowly lowered the faded flag of 2016. It had weathered the months well, and could probably have stayed for a while more at someone’s home, a business, any place where the cost of a new one might be challenging.
At the appropriate time, 1st Sgt. Thomas Peel, gray head held high, his back straight and proud, approached the pole at the center of the monument. With only a slight bit of assistance from the students from the school, he affixed the clasp that held the new flag. Slowly, as is proper, it went to the top of the pole before half way back down. There, it will hang again until next spring.
As a final show of respect and remembrance, Taps, played by Otto Hage, from a distance, wafted across the crowd. The JROTC students and their commander laid the wreath at the foot of the memorial stone. In a few days, the flowers will fade, but the flag will be a constant reminder that freedom is not free. For some, our freedom cost everything.
Over the next 12 months, CM Sgt. Retired Tim Treaster, will maintain the flag. He’ll make sure it’s lit when appropriate, and that all flag etiquette is followed. A member of the Ruritans himself, he takes that responsibility seriously.
Within an hour of the end of the service, Pelion’s population had shrunken back to its normal size. People rushed in and out of the IGA grabbing that last-minute necessity, boats and campers towed behind every make, model, and size of truck came through, and the roar of Harleys could be heard as singles and couple riders enjoyed a beautiful day. It was just another holiday again.
Each year on Memorial Day, at least for a short while, Pelion comes to a stop. It leads the way, it does what we all should do on that day; it solemnly remembers those who gave all so that we could enjoy Memorial Day.