Group honored to represent Grand Strand at national Memorial Day parade in D.C.

Group honored to represent Grand Strand at national Memorial Day parade in D.C.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A group of six Grand Strand veterans is headed to Washington, D.C. to participate in Monday's 2017 Memorial Day Parade, which will be broadcast here on WMBF News.

Veterans from each branch of service were honored for their devotion to the country by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. They also received instructions for their upcoming trip to D.C.

"When I was told that I was going, it was just ... shot me up to cloud nine. I couldn't believe it. So many people deserve it more than I do, but I'll take it. I'm proud of it," said Shelby "Bud" Chestnut.

At the age of 93, Chestnut has cherished memories of his 17 years in the Navy fixing planes as an aviation machinist. He knew as a boy he'd follow in his father's footsteps - himself a World War I medic - and serve his country.

"Yes sir, I got home on leave on Saturday night before Pearl Harbor on Sunday. Cut my leave short," Chestnut said.

Still, after World War II, he wasn't done with his service. After his stint in the Navy, Chestnut spent 23 years in the Air Force.

"I'm extremely proud. I just wish I had done a couple more. If I could go back, I would," he said.

Robert Hagan, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is also proud of his service and getting to represent the Grand Strand on a national stage.

"Well, I was thrilled because I wanted to see all the monuments. I've been to Washington D.C., but it was prior to all these war monuments and I want to see them. I want to see mine," he said.

Hagan avoided war, but spent four years with the Air Force, operating the guns on a B-29. He said he was almost too good in target practice, taking down expensive test targets the military couldn't afford to replace.

"That's right, it was an easy job if you know how to turn your hands. I loved it," he said.

Hagan was enlisted for three extra years, and at 87 years young, he said he'd do it again.

"It was a glorious time and I was honored to serve, and I appreciate all the veterans who managed to retire in the service because you really got to buckle down," he said.

Laura Den Bleyker's husband, Joseph, is a Marine who spent 18 months on the front line during the Vietnam War. She will make the trip to D.C. with her husband, who fought another battle after his four years in the service.

"He had prostate cancer from Agent Orange," Bleyker said. "He's fine now, it was a lot of recovery, but no animosity or anything. He loves this country and that's really why I nominated him to go walk in the parade, because there's not a day that goes by - if we're in a restaurant or walking on the street - he sees somebody - you know everybody wears their hats today - and he'll just get up and say, 'Welcome home, brother.' I'm proud of him and I know he'd be proud to walk and I'm glad he won."

For 86-year-old John Morgan Jr., a veteran of the U.S. Army who flew Cessnas in the Korean War, this will be his first trip to the nation's capital.

Morgan's time in the skies during combat were certainly active.

"Yeah, you always got fire from the ground because they knew who you were," he said. "Here you are in the middle of Korea with this little plane flying around, they knew exactly what it was for, but I didn't get hit too many times. I had two or three bullets through the wings and stuff like that, and so I was lucky."

Holli Hatchell Fowler, a fellow U.S. Army veteran, considers herself "humbled by the experience."

As Morgan's daughter, she was inspired by her father to spend three years in the late 70s documenting the many missions of the military as a member of the U.S. Army Special Operations' pictorial detachment.

She has a picture of herself behind a gun, for shooting practice, when she wasn't shooting video.

"What we did was documentaries and training films for the Department of Defense for the Army," Fowler said. "So I was stationed at Fort Gillem, Ga., and Fort McPherson and I traveled all over. (I) was in Korea. where my Dad was as well, and on the DMZ, which was pretty scary even back."

She entered herself in the trip contest just for a chance to bring her dad.

"It's an honor to go in that parade and it's also an honor to represent our area here in Myrtle Beach," Fowler said.

A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sean Thompson has some friends who will also be marching in the parade.

Despite spending 21 years with the Coast Guard beginning in 1979, Thompson is not done rescuing boaters just yet.

"Well I had a varied career. I served many years in law enforcement, search and rescue, I spent probably eight years in aides navigation, which I'm now currently working with in the Coast Guard Auxiliary," he said. "I serve down at the Coast Guard aides navigation team Georgetown now and help the active duty actually go out and repair buoys and lights."

Despite their harrowing missions, all of these veterans never lose their humility.

"I am proud to be a veteran and I am really proud of the way the people in Myrtle Beach treat their veterans," Hagan said.

Meanwhile, they're just beaming for their next big assignment.

"I'm just 93 now and I'm looking forward to some more of them and I don't (know) anything that will top that," Chestnut said.

The MBACC received 65 submissions. The Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River selected the winners based on the applications.

Anyone who knows of a local veteran that can be featured in this segment should click here.

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