Memorial Day is a time of remembrance for people across the United States. It is also a time to come together in appreciation of Marines, Sailors, soldiers and airmen who did not flinch in the face of doing their duty. That’s why, every year on June 1, the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Hammocks Beach State Park partner to invite veterans, active duty service members and their families for their Military Appreciation Day at the park. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For about 20 years now, Hammocks Beach State Park’s Military Appreciation Day has seen drastic growth. Initially, the event saw four to five hundred attendees. Now attendance numbers run in the thousands.
“We had just under 5,000 people show up last year,” said Dr. Joan Bold from Webster University.
It’s one of the city of Swansboro, NC’s biggest events every year and made possible through the community coming together in a common goal. Retired USMC Lt. Col. David Brown is part of the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee (MAC).
“We look for two things,” said Brown. “We want to bring the military close to the community and bring the community close to the military.”
One way in which the MAC is showing their appreciation is with the presentation of keys to the Swansboro Area to two installation leaders. Sgt. Maj. Charles Metzger, sergeant major of Marine Corps Installations East, and Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher, sergeant major of II Marine Expeditionary Force, will be given that honor by Swansboro Mayor John Davis.
The festive atmosphere of Military Appreciation Day is a big step in getting the rest of the area’s military personnel and veterans involved as well. There will be live performances by local bands Wild Honey from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the Naked Knees from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Swansboro has upwards of 30 vendors already slated to attend the event. About 15 of those are education entities that exist in the area for service members, veterans and their families. Bold and Webster University are part of that ensemble, as are NCIS and other organizations looking to touch base with service members.
“We don’t sell anything out there,” Brown said. “We’ll have free food and drinks.”
The food will include hot dogs, chips, watermelon and pickles.
The event also features fun for families and kids including face painting, a clown, and a touch tank from Pine Knolls Shore Aquarium with all manner of aquatic life. Children will be able to engage themselves kinesthetically with animals like shrimp and crabs. There will also be live butterfly and snake exhibits to round out the air, land and sea trifecta. Bold believes bringing the military community closer to nature also helps Hammocks Beach spread a respect for the environment.
“The park gets a lot of state recognition for doing this,” Bold said. “What has started small has grown so big… To bring the military out to the park has really highlighted Hammocks Beach and what they do for conservation and the environment. They’re a very naturalist park. It also fills in for the park’s philosophy of maintaining an openness and a naturalist environment as a gateway for the ocean, beach and their preservation.”
“The continuity has been amazing,” Brown said.
For those seeking to wander the park’s trail a park ranger will be conducting a guided tour. Additionally, canoes are available for those who are looking to get into the water.
“These are unique canoes,” Brown said. “They’re very big. They can hold 10 to 20 people.”
Those attending should know that the ferry service to Bear Island will not be running, however, due to damage the docks sustained last storm season. Bold expects that service to be running again in July.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc., a veterans organization which is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing, will also be on hand to conduct fly fishing classes.
Attendees are urged to bring sunscreen, bug spray, and something to sit on.
“We have plenty of shade trees,” Bold said.
“One of my favorite things is our (Chamber of Commerce) director Mike McHugh and the President, Fred (Schachter), get out and handle parking every year,” Brown said. “Our leaders go out and roll their sleeves up… It’s a nice little town where people come together.”