Originally created 06/03/01

Event pays tribute to veterans

Freedom is not free.

It's a time-worn phrase but one people should never forget, said organizers of a Saturday service to honor those who paid for American freedom, many with their lives.

During the ceremony at Horse Creek-Midland Valley Memorial Park, a "Living Witness" tree was planted in honor of those who fought and died in World War II.

"The reason we are here is to commemorate the fact that freedom is not free, and the least we can do is honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can gather together and express our freedoms," said Aiken County Veterans Affairs Officer Robin Starks.

The ceremony also was an opportunity to say goodbye to Ms. Starks, who is leaving for a new assignment.

The memorial ceremony was held a week after Memorial Day to coincide with the second anniversary of the park's opening, said Judith Knight, a member of the Veterans Park board of directors. The delay also ensured that some of the participants would not have conflicts with other Memorial Day events.

The memorial sapling planted Saturday was grown from a seed collected from President Eisenhower's home in Texas, Ms. Knight said. Before he was president, Mr. Eisenhower commanded American troops in Europe during World War II.

Post 10601 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Ladies Auxiliary sponsored the ceremony and chose the Veteran's Park as the site for the Eisenhower Green Ash.

Lue McGregor was among the spectators who watched the tree-planting ceremony. She said she came to support Ms. Starks, who had helped her family sort through difficult veterans' issues when her husband became ill.

"If it wasn't for her help with the position I was in with my husband, who has Alzheimer's, I don't know what I would have done. Anytime I had a question, I turned to Robin, and she was always there to help me and my husband," Mrs. McGregor said.

Before Mrs. Starks was hired, Mrs. McGregor said she had trouble getting veterans' workers to handle her questions and meet her needs.

Leo Passmore, an Aiken resident and Marine Corps veteran, said the turnout of less than 50 was a little disappointing.

"We thought we were going to have a lot of veterans out here, but because of the warm weather, the fishing being so good, and things like that, not as many veterans showed up as we would have liked," Mr. Passmore said.

Before the ceremony, Ken Wilson III, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, said organizers were expecting at least 100 to 150 people.

Reach Sara Bancroft at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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