FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - On Monday, the Florence National Cemetery staff and veterans honored the brave men and women who gave their lives protecting ours with their annual Memorial Day ceremony.
"Veterans Day is for all veterans, Armed Forces Day is for all active duty military and veterans, but this day is set aside for those that are buried in these graves behind me," U.S. Army veteran Colonel Barry Wingard said.
The morning's downpours didn't stop dozens of people from coming out to honor heroes. Veterans, residents and the mothers of fallen soldiers attended the ceremony.
"We have had as many of 500 to 600 people in the past and I was really worried that we were going to have a real small crowd, but the cemetery staff put up these tents and I looked out there from the podium and it was a huge crowd and I'm just glad to see it," Wingard said.
In the crowd was Donna Harter, whose son Kelly Keith, a U.S. Marine corporal, died during a mission on April 8, 2000. Harter said Kelly was on a mission in Arizona when his helicopter malfunctioned and crashed, killing him and 17 other Marines. He was only 22.
Every year, Harter attends events like these to honor her son.
"Kelly was just one of the best. He loved what he was doing and I'm sure he wouldn't of wanted to go any other way than with his Marine brothers," Harter said.
Aside from the annual ceremony, Kelly has a highway and an award named after him. Every year, Harter presents the Kelly Keith Spirit of Bravery Award to a high school student in Cheraw where he's from.
"That is the only way to get through missing a child is honoring him and keeping his memory alive every year, every event, everything you can attend," Harter said.
Attending the event alongside Harter were other moms who have experienced the same loss. The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute and the song "Taps." Harter said she is grateful for the veterans and the cemetery staff who worked hard to remember their loved ones' sacrifice.
"Without them we wouldn't be here. Freedom is not free. Some people don't realize that, but it is a huge sacrifice," Harter said.
Officials say there are nearly 13,000 members of the military buried at the Florence National Cemetery.
On Saturday morning, volunteers, families and veterans placed American flags at every grave.