Nov 03 2019
FLORENCE, S.C. -- At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the 11th annual Florence Veterans Day Ceremony will be held Monday at the Florence Veterans Park as a tribute to veterans of U.S. armed forces.
A Gold Star Families Monument will be dedicated at the ceremony.
The speaker this year is Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey “Jeff” Jones, who serves as the deputy adjutant general for the South Carolina Military Department. Jones is a Pee Dee native, a graduate of The Citadel and a veteran of multiple deployments, including Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
“We feel like we have had great events each year, and we try build on that success,” said retired Army Col. Barry Wingard, chairman of the Florence Veterans Park committee and master of ceremonies of the Florence Veterans Day Ceremony. “One of the constants has been outstanding speakers, and this year will continue that traditions.”
The Gold Star Families Monument is a tribute to those who have lost a family member while that family member was serving his or her country.
“The monument is spectacular and will be a tremendous addition to our park,” Wingard said.
The two-sided monument is approximately 8 feet tall, 16 feet wide and 8 inches thick.
“The Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Medal of Honor Foundation has led the way nationally to recognize our Gold Star Families,” Wingard said. “We are indebted to them for their assistance and advice on this project.”
Woody Williams, now 94 years old, is the last living World War II Marine to earn the nation’s highest military award.
The local effort began when Eddie Collins presented the idea to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Collins actually met Woody Williams when he attended a Gold Star Family monument ceremony. Following Collins’ presentation, the Parks Commission voiced unanimous support. Collins then formed a committee made up of Gold Star family members and veterans who worked diligently to plan and to solicit donors.
The response to fund raising request was broad, and the number of donors and the amount of money raised surpassed any previous fund raising projects in the history of the park, Wingard said.
“We had 95 separate donors,” he said. “Businesses, civic clubs, foundations, the state of South Carolina and the Florence County Council joined with scores of individual donors to make this project a reality.”
These donors will be recognized in the Veterans Day program, and those who gave at the highest levels will have their names permanently etched on marker stones adjacent to the monument.
As is custom each year, names of veterans with Pee Dee connections are added to the Wall of Honor. This year’s event will include the addition of 56 names, bringing the total to 776 honorees.
Besides the speaker, the ceremony will include music provided by the Florence-Darlington Technical College Choir, South Florence High School Naval JROTC Color Guard and some guests.
“We really hope to reach as many Gold Star family members as possible and hope they will come,” Wingard said. “We tend to remember the sacrifices of the service members, but we forget about the enormous sacrifices of the loved ones.”
The park is at 601 Woody Jones Blvd., on the other side of the main parking lot from the Florence Center.
The ceremony is free and open to the public. The event is weather dependent, but 600 to 800 people typically attend. Seating is limited, so people are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. If the weather is extreme, the ceremony will be moved into the Florence Center.