NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – North Myrtle Beach has welcomed more than 3,000 veterans and their families for the annual reunion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
A program called A Salute to Military Veterans helped welcome the 173rd on Thursday evening. The program included a parachute jump by the Army Golden Knights, a music concert, and fireworks.
"We worked very hard to bring this reunion to North Myrtle Beach," explained the program's organizer Skipper "Water Dog" Hough. "We worked on it for three years actually. It's a long drawn out process with a lot of players in the ring."
Each year the 173rd chooses a different location for the reunion, and this year North Myrtle Beach got the nod from the veterans. Many of them said they will travel wherever the reunion takes them.
"It's like brotherhood," commented veteran William Smith. "You meet all your old friends. I met a guy I hadn't seen since we left Vietnam."
Smith spent Thursday morning playing in a golf tournament as part of the reunion. He said everyone is willing to bear the expense of traveling to enjoy the comradery of fellow veterans.
"I would average 150 to 200 dollars at the minimum and more possibly," said veteran James Dresser when asked to estimate how much each veteran spends during the reunion.
When multiplied by the thousands of veterans in town, that spending is getting noticed by businesses in North Myrtle Beach.
Veteran Hal Nobles who helped bring the reunion to North Myrtle Beach estimated a significant impact to the area.
"With all the money they spend on the hotels, the restaurants, and other things they will be involved in, it's a guess, maybe a million bucks."
According to Houghs that estimate is a bit low. He said the reunion will bring six to eight million dollars into the local economy.
"An event like this touches everyone: gas stations, restaurants, gift shops, upscale shops, the beachwear stores," Hough said. "Everyone's touched. Everyone gets a piece of this pie."
At the Avista Resort, which is the host hotel for the reunion, the positive economic impact is obvious. Manager James Eggen said he had to charge lower than average rates to attract business in May, so having the veterans in town is a welcome boost to business.
"It's sold out our hotel in the first week of June, which we've never had," Eggen said. "It's a real boon for us. We're happy to have them."