CLEMSON — For more than two hours Thursday, the Clemson University theme became “Semper Fidelis,” the motto of the United States Marine Corps.
About 40 Marines who had been injured in combat were the guests of the Clemson University Athletic Department as the Leathernecks wound up three and a half days as guests of the Upstate communities determined to show their appreciation for the men’s and women’s sacrifices.
Col. Sandy Edge (USAF, retired), director of Clemson’s College of Business and Behavioral Science Academic Advising Center, led a walking tour of the Scroll of Honor, which memorializes the 482 Clemson graduates who have died in military actions.
The last, Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Zabierek, Class of 2000, was killed in Iraq on may 21, 2004, just short of his 26th birthday.
Drawing on Clemson graduates’ tradition of service from the first graduating class in 1895, Edge talked about the question made the focus of Clemson’s traditions, a question even carved deep into boulders at the Scroll of Honor park: “How Will You Serve?”
“Every Clemson graduate or visitor passing through this park is asked that,” Edge said.
“You,” he said to the Marines gathered around him, “have already answered that.”
The Marines arrived Monday from Camp Lejeune, N.C., along with a group from the Marine Corps Upstate Wounded Warrior Regiment, to the fanfare of a parade and have spent the week fishing, hiking, golfing, river tubing, participating in archery or just relaxing. Tuesday night they were feted at a barbecue in Seneca.
This is the fifth year that Upstate communities, spearheaded by volunteers from the Keowee Key community on Lake Keowee, partnering with the Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital of the Greenville Health System, have hosted this “Honoring Their Service” event. The tour of the Clemson athletic facilities was the last event before the Marines head out.
For some, the Thursday visit to Death Valley and the behind-the-scenes tour of the training and locker rooms was a high point. And of course they all got to rub Howard’s Rock. Even one who identified himself as a South Carolina fan.
For Derrick Cannon, a 24-year-old Marine from Pickens and a Clemson fan, it was a first time to rub Howard’s Rock, which the football team traditionally rubs before it runs down the hill and onto the field.
“It’s awesome,” said Cannon. “It gives me goosebumps.”
As did the Scroll of Honor, he said. “It’s an honor to be in the presence of (the Scroll of Honor),” he said. “You can’t match what we did to the sacrifices of those people.”
Brad Scott, an assistant athletic director, told the Marines, “There’s a lot coaches can learn from the team you’ve put together. We love your team and thank you for being the warriors that you are.”
Marines visit Death Valley
Wounded Warriors tour Memorial Stadium
Larry Greenlee, assistant strength and conditioning coach of the Clemson Tigers, added words of encouragement to those Marines still recovering from their injuries, drawing parallels to players in a hard game.
“We all get knocked down,” Greenlee said. “It’s about getting up again.”
For 24-year-old Allen Makinson, a Seneca native who has served two tours in Afghanistan, the week capped by the Clemson tour was coming home in a different way.
“It’s very humbling,” he said. “It’s nice to know somebody cares.
“There are days out there,” he said, “when you don’t know if anybody cares about you at all.”