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Darkening skies rumbled now and then as a crowd of about 900 Sun City Hilton Head residents welcomed retired and active members of the armed services Nov. 12 for a moving ceremony commemorating Veteran's Day.
Telling the crowd that he would probably grow emotional as he described his work, keynote speaker retired Army Lt. Col Richard Clarke detailed the extraordinary stories of wounded veterans who have participated in the Lt. Dan Weekends, which are held each year to raise money for wounded veterans. Clarke, a Beaufort resident, was the director of operations for the Lt. Dan Weekend in Beaufort.
Clarke told the story of a quadruple amputee who recently was released from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who insisted he wasn't able to fish. Clarke asked the veteran, "Don't you have metal arms? Yes. Well, put 'em on."
The veteran did, and was able to land a "pretty big fish," but with a bit of help after a tug of war with the big one. "Help me, help me; my arms are coming off," Clarke said the veteran pleaded. The fish was reeled in, much to the delight of the veteran.
"Can you imagine that he will ever forget that?" Clarke said. "We want to help veterans change their lives. These events help veterans get away from their everyday lives and the medical ward."
Clarke graduated from West Point in 1961 and served 23 years as an Infantry officer. He served in Vietnam and Germany, and six years on the staff of the U.S. Military Academy. Clarke and his wife of 51 years, Gail, built their home about 14 years ago on Lady's Island.
The Sun City Veterans Day event was dedicated to the medical services of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
"This is a great day to honor all veterans and to recognize our medical personnel who have done and are doing so much for our forces," said Sun City Veterans Association Vice Cmdr. William Fitzgerald, who was master of ceremonies of the event.
Tom Burke, commander of the Sun City Veterans Association, presented the day's welcoming address, which included honoring Arnold Rosen as the association's Member of the Year. Jack Schuhl was program manager of the event, with the assistance of Robert Caruso and Bill Gardner. The Sun City Singers, with Anrose Pearlstein directing and Judy Colwell on piano, offered opening songs and rousing Armed Forces salutes. Al Sturdevant performed the national anthem. Color Guard and Marching Units from Bluffton High School Junior ROTC, Civil Air Patrol-Lowcountry Composite, and SCVA Rudy Haumann Marching Unit, led by George Mangi, participated in the event.
"These young people all volunteered to be here today; today is a school day, so you know why," Fitzgerald quipped, then added, "and after this, they are going to school."
On the other end of the age spectrum, about 10 veterans rose and received applause when Fitzgerald asked veterans over the age of 85 to stand. The Rev. Ralph Fleming, Bluffton, delivered the invocation.
"Oh Lord, talk sense to us so we can end prejudice and cruelty and draw us together as one people so that our land will find the way to be the light to all of the world," Fleming said in prayer.