Retired Master Sgt. Frank Zamarripa served in the U.S. Army for 21 years, including in Vietnam, Grenada and El Salvador.
The wheelchair-bound veteran suffered shrapnel wounds from a rocket-propelled grenade and says “Agent Orange has put me in this chair.”
Despite his physical limitations and scars from his wounds, Zamarripa was determined to make it out on a gloomy and cloudy Monday morning for the Veterans Day observance in Orangeburg.
“I try to honor my comrades,” he said. “Especially the ones that did not make it home. We were a brotherhood. We were a band of brothers.”
“Sgt. Z,” as he was fondly called by the soldiers in his platoon, says the bond remains after all these years.
“I feel responsible because a lot of them that did not make it back were under my command,” he said. “It was my responsibility to take care of those guys and I failed them somehow.”
Zamarripa says he lives with that every day.
“You can’t come to terms with it,” he said. “You just live with it. Time helps but you will never forget.”
He joined about 100 from the community Monday for a service at Veterans Memorial Park.
The Rev. Clark McGriff, the Veterans Day speaker, called on those gathered to express their thanks to God for blessings of freedom and for the men and women in uniform.
“Today more than 300 million people live in these United States,” McGriff said. “The benefits and blessings of being citizens of this land of the free and home of the brave have not and do not come cheaply. Having at our daily disposal the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is no casual matter nor can it be taken for granted.”
McGriff, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said the freedoms enjoyed by American citizens have been won by the men and women who wear a military uniform.
“About 1 percent of the population of America is entrusted with the defense of this nation of 300 million people,” he said. “Never have so few given so much for so many.”
McGriff recalled the song “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin.
“Never has a nation or a people been so blessed,” he said. But McGriff called upon all to begin blessing God.
“We bless God for the men and women who have worn the uniform. We bless God for those who are wearing it now. We bless God for the service of the veteran. We bless God for the sacrifice of the veteran,” he said.
Donning a U.S. flag tie, 88-year-old Alex Dibble said one reason he came out Monday was to see how many of his World War II comrades were still alive. Dibble served in the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division as an 18-year-old. He was wounded in the right leg in Normandy.
“I left the unit in January, just after the Battle of the Bulge,” Dibble said. He went back into the U.S. Army Reserve for about 16 years, leaving as a captain.
Honoring those who have served is the right thing to do, Dibble said.
“I am thankful every day that I was able to come back,” he said.
In keeping with the patriotic theme, each branch of service had its song played during Monday’s ceremony. Veterans rose when their branch’s song was played.
Prisoners of war and those missing in action were recognized by Dwight Horton, commander of the American Legion Post 4.
Others recognized were Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers as well as those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Taps” was played in closing.
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