Veterans Day: Saluting ‘the very best of friends … in the very worst of circumstances’
By Samantha Lyles
With face coverings in place and umbrellas at the ready, citizens gathered for a Veterans Day ceremony on the Darlington County Courthouse grounds last Wednesday. Many stood for the entire one-hour event, saluting, praying and singing to pay their respects to America’s military veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation. Dennis Jenkins of Darlington American Legion Post 13 opened the ceremony and welcomed two guest speakers: Maj. David C. Bryant, a Purple Heart recipient who served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Henry Joe Lee, who served for a total of 27 years with the Navy and S.C. Army National Guard. Bryant said he had dreamed since childhood of becoming a soldier, and after graduating from The Citadel, he led a platoon of military police in Iraq. He shared memories of his brothers in arms, men from varying backgrounds who came together to defend the nation following the 9/11 terror attacks. “Combat was absolutely horrific. It was there that I met the very best of friends I could ever imagine, in the very worst of circumstances,” said Bryant. “It was their duty to preserve the freedom and the American way of life, and they did it with honor, they did it with valor, and they did it with humility.” Bryant also shared his experience befriending a “struggling” Vietnam veteran who was self-medicating with pills and alcohol. Through persistence and compassion, Bryant earned the man’s trust and learned of his exemplary service record, which included three Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars with valor, and 25 air medals. When the man passed away six months later, Bryant eulogized him at his funeral and was able to share stories of his service with friends and family who knew little or nothing of his heroism. “That was the greatest reward I had ever had in my military career,” said Bryant. Also at this ceremony, Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd delivered the good news that City Council had voted the previous evening to donate an additional $5,000 for two new dedication walls at the Darlington Veterans Memorial. The Memorial Day program included a musical salute to each branch of the military service. Veterans stood, saluted and were recognized as official songs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard rang out. In closing, the crowd observed a moment of silence and listened as “Taps” played in remembrance of the dead.