DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - The Eighth Annual Veterans Day Ceremony was held at the Florence Veterans Park on Friday morning, attracting hundreds of young and old to honor and remember the nation's veterans.
The guest speaker was Brig. General Viet X. Luong, chief of staff for U.S. Army Central. He shared emotional stories of soldiers who gave their lives, since he said it's his duty to be a living testament.
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of a new sculpture called "Alone with Memories," designed by Alex Palkovich, who also created "Fountain of Tears" that is dedicated to widows of deceased veterans.
This World War II monument was relocated to the Veterans Park from the American Legion 1, and an unveiling of The Wall of Honor was newly installed, with 36 veterans from the Pee Dee.
A brand new U.S. Army monument was also unveiled by memorialist Bran Oswalt and artist Dan Garrison. The mural shows 280 hours of etching of soldiers in battle.
James McLaughlin, a retired U.S. Army veteran of 40 years, has been to every single ceremony at Veterans Park.
"To meet a WWII veteran, to meet a Korean War veteran and actually Vietnam and other soldiers who served across the world, that's a great blessing and spiritual movement," McLaughlin said.
The WWII veteran McLaughlin referred to is David Phillips, who said he said he lives for days like Friday and can't help but get emotional when he sees other veterans like himself.
"These people out here today ... my wife Libby says, 'You're getting mushy in your old age,'" Phillips said.
Phillips first joined the Navy on his 18th birthday and later served on a 329-foot-long landing ship tank. He remembered the day he and his fellow soldiers carried 30 Sherman tanks on deck.
"He went in and unloaded our tanks and the crews went with them. The Germans got up on some cliffs. It was just raining down on our troops something awful," Phillips said.
His captain ordered them out and Phillips said they spent more than a day installing 360 stretchers and went back in and took out 360 wounded soldiers.
Now, Phillips is one of four South Carolinians who wears his medal proudly every day.
He has lived in Florence the past 55 years and said he was one of many that made it their mission to install the Florence Veterans Park eight years ago,
"We know that they will carry the torch and that's an honor to me to know that although I stepped back and retired, they are still stepping up," McLaughlin said.