'It brings everybody back home.' Beaufort Co. neighbors uphold 26-year-old tradition

Nancy and Jack Schaaf of Beaufort have upheld a military-focused neighborhood Independence Day tradition for 26 years.
Nancy and Jack Schaaf of Beaufort have upheld a military-focused neighborhood Independence Day tradition for 26 years. special to The Island Packet

For residents of Shammy Creek Landing on Lady's Island, there's more to celebrating July 4th than firing up a grill.

In fact, the neighborhood has kept an Independence Day tradition that's as old as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.

For 26 years, Shammy Creek homeowners have gathered with their active duty military family members and staged small parades, moments of silence to honor fallen veterans and renditions of "God Bless America" to celebrate the country's birth.

The crowd is serious about the celebration.

"No spectators, all participants," resident Vicki Swierkowksi said Thursday.

The tradition started with Jack and Nancy Schaaf and their family as a way to honor those serving in the U.S. military.

In 1992, there was "hardly anybody" in Shammy Creek Landing, said Sally Tompkins, the Schaafs' daughter. But on July 4th of that year, the family was together and about to walk down to the sandbar — the "mud flap" they called it — with a boombox.

They "marched" there, Tompkins said, from the family's Broomfield Lane home, with the sounds of patriotic tunes such as "God Bless America" playing on the boombox. That got them thinking of those who fought, or are fighting, for the United States.

After that small beginning, Nancy Schaaf wanted the parade to be a tradition and decided to get the neighborhood involved.

Every year since, a group of neighborhood residents has come together to march in red, white and blue from the Schaafs' house at the tip of the island down to the community dock and gazebo to celebrate the nation's birthday.

This year, Jack Schaaf, the event's grand marshal and a former Air Force fighter pilot, thanked residents for their patriotism and led them (as he traditionally does) in the Pledge of Allegiance. They also participated in a moment of silence to remember military residents who died in the past year. And, of course, they sang "God Bless America."

The celebration — complete with watermelon, peaches and red, white and blue bathing suits — continued once the group reached the water.

"And all the kids on the dock jump in the river and float back" to the Schaafs' place, Tompkins said.

About 60 residents participated this year, she said, many of them from the Schaaf clan.

One resident, Tompkins said — a widow whose husband died recently while on military duty — told her the July 4th celebration with Schaaf helps to get her through difficult times.

It's never the size of the Independence Day crowd that matters to Shammy Creek residents.

"It's the sense of community my parents instilled in the neighbors," Tompkins said, that brings them out every year to celebrate the holiday and the nation's heroes.

"These are people that don't see each other every day," Swierkowski said.

For some Shammy Creek Landing residents, the event may very well be the main reason they see their kin every year.

"It brings everybody back home," Tompkins said. "The family's always going to be here."

For the past couple of years, Jack Schaaf and his wife have driven to the dock instead of walking.

He's almost 90, after all.

"All the neighbors are really close, even though they don't see each other all the time," Swierkowski said.

"It wouldn’t be July 4th without the Shammy Creek Landing’s get-together."