Somehow, 42 years and four months after he was shot three times across the hips during a firefight in Vietnam, Buck Schwing stood Saturday morning at Rock Hill's Veterans Memorial at Glencairn Garden for the posting of the flags.
Schwing, who has spent the past 35-plus years helping teens play American Legion baseball even though he can't run but wants kids to run and be free in their joy of a game that involves no rifles, stood with braces on his legs and a cane.
The ceremony Saturday honoring the city's veterans, with Veterans Day approaching Thursday, lasted about a half-hour. Flags for all services were presented, there were a few speeches and some music. It was short and sweet and beautiful.
Somehow, Schwing, who might be the toughest disabled veteran there is, and the kindest at the same time, stood for almost the whole time.
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"I am proud to do it, too," Schwing said.
A 26-year Navy veteran pilot named Dick Sanford stood most of the time, too, alongside his 5-year-old granddaughter, Gaia Eidson. Gaia wore a flight suit, those military jumpsuits that troops wear, just like her grandfather did for more than a quarter-century. Hers, like his, had wings on it.
"I wanted to share this with her, let her experience what these veterans have done and still do," said Sanford the grandfather.
Last year, on almost the same date, the city opened the memorial as a central place for the community to gather and reflect on the military service of so many in the community. That same week last year, 105 soldiers from the Army National Guard 1222nd Engineers, based at the Fort Mill armory, left for training before heading to Afghanistan. Those soldiers returned home Oct. 29 after clearing more than 10,000 miles of Afghan roads of bombs.
The top non-commissioned officer in that unit, 1st Sgt. Tracy Payne, spoke briefly Saturday. Payne, with 2-year-old twin daughters, is the first to tell you he is not a man of words. He does not say, but it is true, that he is a man of action, and that the few words he uses he means.
Last year when those 105 soldiers left, Payne told the assembled families; "I will do all I can to bring every one of them home to you."
That is exactly what Payne did last week - brought all those men and women home.
When Payne told the crowd of about 100 people at the ceremony that, there was applause. Gaia Eidson, age 5, clapped her pink-gloved hands. Her grandfather Dick Sanford clapped. Buck Schwing, standing up yet again, clapped.
And at the end of that little ceremony, Sanford the retired Navy pilot shook Tracy Payne's hand and thanked him. So did his granddaughter.
And then Tracy Payne, home from the most dangerous job in the world, walked up to Buck Schwing, the disabled veteran, and he said, "Thank you for what you did."
Buck Schwing said, "Don't mention it. Veterans - we did what we had to do."