Rock Hill’s Martha C. Faris, 89, is used to being the only woman in certain crowds.
She’s the only woman from World War II in the local Marine Corps League, the only woman from that war in her American Legion Post and, at a Columbia event for veterans, she was the only woman from World War II out of 8,000 people.
And at Sunday’s second annual Massing of the Colors, she was the only female veteran in sight.
“There’s not many of us left,” she said of her World War II veteran status.
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Master Sgt. Faris enlisted in the U.S. Marines on Dec. 7, 1943 -- Faris remembers the exact day. She wanted to be sworn in in honor of her uncle. She attended boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before being stationed at Cherry Point Air Station.
At the time, female soldiers were not sent overseas.
“They didn’t have barracks for women,” she said. “They had to put us in the men’s barracks.”
The next day, there were flower pots in front of the barracks to make it a little more female-friendly. Faris served for six years.
Sunday afternoon’s event at Rock Hill High School honored those who never had the chance to tell anyone themselves how many years they served -- because they died protecting the country they loved. It also voiced its support for the servicemen and women who have represented and continue to represent the American flag.
Major John Murray said the event is an “inspiring and patriotic ceremony,” assembling military, civic, patriotic and other organizations.
“It’s a refreshing tribute to our heritage and to the dead of all our wars who helped preserve it,” he said.
After recognizing Faris and L.C. Rice, a Pearl Harbor survivor from Rock Hill, more than 15 organizations marched through the high school’s auditorium to place their colors on the stage. Organizations included JROTC programs from Clover, Rock Hill, South Pointe and Gaffney high schools as well as American Legion posts in Rock Hill and Fort Mill, Cub Scout Pack #132 in Edgemoor, National Marine Corps League Old English Leathernecks in Rock Hill and the Rock Hill Police Department and York County Sheriff’s Office.
More than 20 flags were waving proud and true before the ceremony was near over.
The event was not just an honor for veterans; it was an honor for the teens in Rock Hill High’s JROTC.
Sophomore Matthew Chandler joined last year, inspired by his grandfathers, who served in World War II and the Vietnam War.
“I joined to better understand why my family joined the military and learn more about the military,” he said.
He added that his grandfathers are proud of his participation in the JROTC.
Freshman Jayz Boger said his great-grandfather served in several years, including World War II. Both students have aspirations of enlisting in the military, while freshman Braeden Wood talked of becoming a pilot.
“It makes you feel how important you can be, how significant of a difference one person can be,” Wood said of his participation in Sunday’s colors event.
Boger also felt the significance.
“It feels amazing,” he said, “knowing your school is holding an event where all of these branches are coming together,” he said.
Patriotism was also the word of the day with Maj. Gen. Wade M. McManus’s speech. McManus is a Richburg native who served 34 years in the military before retiring in 2005.
“There’s no better focus to talk about patriotism than that of the flag of the United States of America, our stars and stripes,” he said. “The most profound and powerful symbol of patriotism and freedom of democracy the world has ever known or will ever know.”
After giving the basic definition of patriotism, he said the American people come together “the moment there is a threat to the nation from an outside enemy.”
Patriotism inspires the people to noble deeds, he added, and nurtures incredible feelings of brotherhood.
In addition, “We’ve learned our service members are the best fighting force the world has known or will ever know,” McManus said. “We can be very proud of our men and women in uniform.
“Freedom is not and will never be free.”