Photo above: U.S. Marine Private Skylar Martin was happy that his grandfather, former Marine Jim Pike, was able to attend his graduation on Nov. 4. Photos by Elizabeth Moore, multimedia director, Honor Flight Savannah.
By Kat Walsh
“Is it real? Is this for me?”
World War II veteran and former Marine Jim G. Pike couldn’t believe his dream was actually coming true.
The 94-year-old was going to be able to see his grandson graduate from Marine Corps boot camp.
“Dad’s goal was always to see Skylar graduate. And now, it’s happening,” said his daughter, April Martin.
Although Pike was given medical approval to travel to the graduation on Parris Island, the 10-plus hour car ride would have been too much, so Martin contacted Honor Flight Southern Indiana.
With 130 chapters nationwide, Honor Flight is a network of volunteers whose mission it is to escort veterans free of charge to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials built in their honor.
This trip was an exception, said board member Jim Weiskopf.
“It’s not part of our normal mission, but when our Southern Indiana counterpart asked for help, we wanted to assist in any way we could.”
Working together, Honor Flight Southern Indiana and Honor Flight Savannah took care of all of the travel arrangements for Pike, Martin and Heather Passick, Skylar’s girlfriend.
The Southern Indiana chapter saw the family off, and the Savannah chapter was at the airport to welcome them.
With a surprise.
Suzi Oliver, Honor Flight Savannah board member, had arranged for the Low Country Patriot Riders to provide a motorcycle escort to bring the family to their hotel in Beaufort.
Dr. Scott Moore, an emergency medicine specialist in Beaufort and a volunteer physician with Honor Flight Savannah, helped supervise Pike’s safe transport and was quickly introduced to the veteran’s personality.
“After the long day of travel, Mr. Pike was understandably extremely tired. Just as I was lifting him into the car, he woke up and realized a stranger was holding him. ‘Please be careful, don’t drop me,’ he said. I replied, ‘I would never drop a fellow Indiana boy.’ The mention of our shared Indiana roots animated him even more. He quickly added, ‘Indiana. I’m from Evansville.’
“And, I said, “I know, and I’m from Merrillville. We come from opposite ends of the state.’
“As I placed him in the seat of the SUV, the first of several such transfers from his wheelchair to an SUV of the weekend, he enthusiastically said, ‘Thanks a million!’
“I replied, ‘No, it is I who owe you the thanks.’”
“I can’t believe they are doing this for me,” Pike said as the family settled in for the main event: graduation.
As the troops marched onto the field, the family searched for their soon-to-be-Marine among 618 graduates.
April Martin said her son has always been close to his grandfather.
“After he retired from the Marines, dad had a part-time job running blueprints. He would take Skylar to work so that he could ‘help,’ ” said Martin, who lives minutes away from the Evansville nursing home where her father now lives.
Wrapped in a Marines blanket made by his daughter, Pike sat peacefully and watched the ceremony.
As the troops readied for the Pass in Review, the entire field was silent, until the cheer of one very proud grandfather broke the silence.
“I would have to say that was my favorite moment,” said Martin. “Even Skylar could hear dad hollering.”
As soon as the graduates were given their final dismissal, Private Martin made his way to his family. Hugs were exchanged, introductions were made and, after the initial flurry of activity, grandfather and grandson were able to have a few quiet moments for their own reunion.
“That was the best graduation gift ever, having my grandfather here,” said Skylar Martin, who was able to return to Evansville with his family. Within a few weeks, he will be off again, this time to Camp Lejeune.
It was a gift that almost didn’t happen.
“Dad had been real sick, in and out of the hospital, for the last couple months,” April Martin said. “But he told the doctors he needed to see his grandson graduate from boot camp.”
A few weeks prior to the trip, Pike’s right leg was essentially dead from a lack of blood flow. Surgery was required, but for someone his age, it could be fatal.
“Having some of that old Devil Dog Young Marine spirit in him, he insisted that they take his leg off. He realized that the surgery was his only chance to survive long enough to see Skylar graduate,” said Moore. “And, he was not going to miss it, even if imminent death was his latest enemy.”
Pike awakened from surgery missing part of a limb but with his sense of humor intact.
“Get my peg leg ready,” he told his surrounding family. “I’m going to need it.”
Veterans Day events
The American Legion Post 205 2nd Annual Bluffton Veterans Day Parade will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11.
It will go from Alljoy Road to Calhoun Street, through Promenade Street and ending at Dr. Mellichamp Drive.
Hilton Head memorial
The Military Coalition of Hilton Head will present its annual Veterans Memorial event at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at the Veterans Memorial at 39 Shelter Cove Lane.
The Beaufort Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony will be held Friday, Nov. 11.
The parade lineup will begin at 9 a.m. on Rodgers Street (parallel to the Beaufort National Cemetery).
The parade will begin at 9:30 a.m. and the Veterans Day Ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at Beaufort National Cemetery.
This year’s Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony will celebrate all military veterans and will feature a special dedication to Vietnam veterans, as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Free concerts in Beaufort
In honor of Veterans Day, the United States Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble will perform two concerts in the Lowcountry.
The first is at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head. The second is at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Beaufort High School Arts Center.
Both concerts are free and open to the public.
Rhythm in Blue features the diverse talents of 15 professional musicians whose commitment to excellence has earned worldwide acclaim and military distinction. The band incorporates a wide repertoire of jazz and fusion, from big band swing to cutting-edge contemporary music. Their fabulous vocalist radiates sounds of the great jazz divas and inspires with patriotic classics.
Free tickets are available to the Nov. 11 concert by calling 843-842-2787.
No tickets are necessary for free admission to the Nov. 12 concert in Beaufort, but seating is limited, so don’t be late.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will administer the Oath of Allegiance to new Marines at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, Parris Island. The Marines will become America’s newest citizens during a naturalization ceremony in honor of Veterans Day.
Military recruits for all branches do not have to be U.S. citizens to serve in the armed forces. Many are non-citizens and are offered opportunities for citizenship in recognition their service and sacrifice.
USCIS seeks to ensure the military naturalization process is convenient, expedited and secure, so that service members receive the appreciation of a grateful nation. Most military personnel take the oath of citizenship at military bases after basic training or at USCIS offices.
The Lowcountry Community Concert Band (LCCB), sponsored by the University of South Carolina-Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), will present a concert entitled “Americans We: A Salute to America’s Veterans” at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Bluffton, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at Hilton Head Island Presbyterian Church.
Conducted by Benny Ferguson and David Hershey, the program will feature music to honor all veterans, including a medley of “Anchors Away,” “The Caisson Song,” “Semper Paratus,” the “Marines’ Hymn” and “The U.S. Air Force.”
There will also be several stirring marches and patriotic anthems performed.
For more information, visit www.ollilccb.com.