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      4th of July ceremony welcomes home Iraq, Afghanistan vets

      Grand Strand veterans and visitors to the area used our nation's birthday to pay tribute to those in the military who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      It was the third annual Welcome Home ceremony in North Myrtle Beach.

      On a crowded beach under a blazing sun, patriotism was on clear display even before flag bearers representing local veterans groups arrived for the ceremony, following a march along the beach.

      American Legion Post 186 member Bob Flanagan was among those who endured the heat and humidity on the beach for a chance to attend and say thank you.

      "If you're proud of your country and the flag, everybody should be out here," Flanagan said.

      Ceremony organizers recruited beach-goers to make a standing corridor of American flags. Volunteers included a few local veterans who know the value of a sincere welcome home.

      "They sacrifice a lot," said veteran Chuck Collins of North Myrtle Beach. "It's the least we can do, is come out and show them a little bit of respect and honor."

      Others volunteered to be flag-bearers on the spot, like 12-year-old Austin Phelps of Shelby, North Carolina.

      "We know that they're saving our lives and we know that they're protecting us and I just want to say thank you and we love you all," he said.

      The flag marchers' arrival at Main Street was timed to coincide with a loud and dramatic flyover salute along the beach by the Flying Tigers of the 20th Fighter Wing, stationed at Shaw Air Force Base.

      Then, veterans and active duty service members joined forces for a march up the beach, and a brief ceremony on Ocean Boulevard.

      It was to thank those who have already served overseas and wish Godspeed to those ready to deploy, like Col. Laura Lenderman, who participated in the ceremony at the request of her mother, who lives in Conway.

      "I happened to have my uniform because I just came from training. I'm on my way over to the United Arab Emirates next Friday, for a year," said Lenderman, who is stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

      It was a fitting tribute to those who have served and others who still are serving, and to Flanagan, who served in the Korean War, it was a symbol of freedom.

      "The people really believe in this country of ours."