Nearly 70 years later, the memories of being shot down over Germany and living in a prisoner of war camp are still vivid for 91-year-old World War II veteran Robert Waldrop.
The U.S. Army Air Corps veteran was aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress on Feb. 4, 1944, when his plane was plucked from the sky. Waldrop landed in occupied France after parachuting from the plane. He was captured and spent a year and a half in a German prison camp before being liberated in 1945.
A Purple Heart recipient and former Beaufort Veterans Day parade marshal, Waldrop was one of many present at a Monday ceremony honoring veterans at Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort.
"It's hard to describe being here," he said. "I'm just so thankful I can be here."
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort executive officer Lt. Col. Patrick Fitzgerald was the keynote speaker at Monday's ceremony. Fitzgerald thanked veterans young and old in his speech.
"The service of our young veterans will be recognized and remembered as time goes on," he said. "We must never forget the sacrifices of our veterans and their families. As Lincoln once said, 'A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.' "
Fitzgerald, who became the air station's executive officer in May, said he was approached by the Beaufort County Veterans Affairs office in October to give the address.
"In my 18 years of service I've never been in a position to thank our veterans, so it was my honor and my pleasure to do so," he said. "It was very rewarding. They deserve to hear my thanks and gratitude."
Fitzgerald said his speech was also meant as a personal thanks to two of his uncles, both of whom served in the Vietnam War.
As the daughter and sister of two members of the U.S. Navy, 16-year-old Maria Rodriguez couldn't help but get emotional during the ceremony. A member of the Parris Island Young Marines program and an aspiring Marine, Rodriguez said she cried when the Beaufort High School band began playing a medley of the songs for each military branch.
About 200 people were in attendance for the ceremony, which included members of every armed services branch, some in their old uniforms.
Retired Marine Fran Williamson was one of them. A World War II and Korean War veteran, the former Veterans Day master of ceremonies wore his S.C. State Guard uniform.
"I always wear my uniform to the Veterans Day ceremony," he said. "People always ask what I've done and where I've been. They really show a respect here when they see the uniform. I really enjoy coming here."
Hundreds more, including Beaufort resident Sheila Boulware, lined the town's streets for the annual Veterans Day parade. Boulware and her daughter Kaitlyn made signs for the parade, each filled with pictures of friends and family who had served.
"I wanted to show how much of my family has served and how much they did for us," Sheila Boulware said. "My mother had six brothers. Five of them went to war, and four came back."
Waldrop, the Army Air Corps veteran, rode in a World War II-era Jeep during the parade. He said it was easier to talk about his experiences and joke about them as years passed by. He recalled how he and his fellow prisoners of war would annoy the guards at the prison camp, or how the men who interrogated him "spoke better English than I ever will."
"We were professional agitators there," he said. "We used to shuffle around during head counts so the German sergeant never could get the right count. He would have to bring in soldiers with fixed bayonets to get us in line."
Beaufort Veterans Day ceremony (2:02)
Scenes from the Beaufort Veterans Day Ceremony, held Monday at the Beaufort National Cemetery. Jay Karr
Hilton Head Island Veterans Day ceremony (2:05)
The Veterans Day Memorial ceremony on Hilton Head Island, Nov. 11, 2013.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.