Folks had to get there early for a front row seat, and James Knight did.
The World War II veteran, who spent almost two years in Germany fighting for freedom, knows too well what it means honoring fallen service members on Memorial Day.
“It means so much to me,” Knight said. “I’m very lucky that I got to come home when so many others didn’t.”
More than 100 people lined the road and hill in front of Veterans Park in downtown Fort Mill for a Monday morning remembrance. Mayor Guynn Savage said it’s taken her a lifetime to understand the sacrifices of service and of war. With each passing year she gains appreciation.
Even standing at the park Monday, where pavers inscribed with the names of service members, including so many who never made it back to this country from the fight, Savage called an honor.
“We stand on their shoulders every single day of our life,” she said.
Lt. Col. Mark Fahner (Ret.), a member of American Legion Post 43 in Fort Mill, came to the area a couple of years ago after a long career in the Air Force and as a defense intelligence officer. The Ohio native also spent time as an intercontinental ballistic missile launch officer. He also spent part of his youth as a bugler for military funerals.
“It wasn’t about the car and appliance sales you saw advertised,” Fahner said of the Memorial Days he remembers as a boy. “It wasn’t about the cookouts or the gatherings. It was about the flags and the patriotism of the local folks.”
Fahner always appreciated playing for military funerals, he said. Part in recognition of someone who served the country. Part for his sometimes payment “with hamburgers and Cokes.” Fahner said his least favorite memory was the occasional graveside service with only a minister, bugler and rifler.
“That left me with a long-lasting impression that no family showed up to honor these men who served their country,” he said.
When deciding to move to Fort Mill, the veteran studied its history. He learned of decorated war heroes like Tom Hall — mortally wounded during World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient; Now there is a main road in town named for him. And Col. White Elliot Springs, one of the first U.S. combat pilots. Fahner said he believes a lot can be learned about a town from visiting its cemeteries. As he and others decorated veterans’ graves of late, he sees a place in Fort Mill doing what he believes all communities should.
“We owe them a great measure of gratitude,” Fahner said.