AIKEN -- For North Augusta resident John Herndon, it seems fitting that veterans are honored with a parade on Memorial Day.
He served in the 3rd Infantry of the Army, was captured by the Germans in December 1944 and spent the next five months in four Nazi prison camps. On Easter Sunday 1945, he and other prisoners were being transported by train to a camp in Germany when Allied airplanes struck the train. As the surviving prisoners were forced off the train, they were surprised to hear the hymn Jesus Arose coming from a nearby church.
No one thought the Germans had practiced religion openly at the time, Mr. Herndon explained as he helped prepare the parade float Saturday for the Ex-POWs of the CSRA.
"I don't think people have a good way to understand the sacrifices that were made," he said.
Hundreds of Aiken-area residents Saturday honored Mr. Herndon and all others who serve in the armed forces with a parade and a street festival.
The day's events started with a performance by the renowned Parris Island Marine Band, which played arrangements of America the Beautiful, God Bless America and of course, the Marine Corps Hymn, which drew a "Hurrah!" from Marines in the audience.
Several blocks away, about 50 veterans groups, military units and area dignitaries assembled to form the parade. The F-16 flyover that was to start the parade was scratched, but parade-goers didn't seem to mind when they saw the newest entry to this year's parade: a Bradley fighting vehicle, a massive armored vehicle that travels alongside main battle tanks to carry troops to the front line.
Children along the route waved flags while their parents took pictures.
As soon as the Bradley parked at Newberry Street for display, children climbed on to play on the turret and the 25 mm machine gun.
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., waved to the crowd as his convertible drove in front of the Bradley. The reception he got Saturday was the best he had ever received as a congressman, he said as he walked up Newberry Street through the festival.
"This is America, isn't it?" he said. "Flags, kids and apple pie."
In brief remarks to the crowd, Mr. Graham criticized the Clinton administration for turning the military into what Mr. Graham described as the biggest deficiency in the federal government.
"Folks in Aiken came out to honor you, and you honor us by serving," he said to veterans in the audience. "And it's time to show you we care by putting some money in the budget."