May 14 – One of Aiken County’s most “seasoned” veterans will be the grand marshal for this year’s Memorial Day Parade, scheduled for 10 a.m. on May 28 in downtown Aiken.
That role will go to Army veteran Hal Peck, 99, a Houndslake resident who served with the 226th Signal Corps and arrived on a beach in Normandy on June 17, 11 days after the largely known Allied invasion in history as D-Day.
The parade, in keeping with tradition, will begin near the Aiken Train Museum and Visitors Center (406 Park Avenue SE) and continue west on Park Avenue, turn north on Laurens Street and end on Edgefield Avenue, just past Trinity on Laurens.
Peck’s compatriot in the parade — a few decades younger — is Army veteran Wanda L. Dicks, a graduate of South Aiken High School, chosen as the parade’s first lady. Dicks, now a community outreach advocate with Welvista, is known to many through her time with ForcesUnited (formerly known as the Augusta Warrior Project).
Dicks, who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Augusta State University, now focuses on providing prescription drugs to uninsured South Carolina residents. His experience includes serving in Iraq, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, both through the 122nd Engineer Battalion. His years of service were from 1983 to 2008.
Peck, a widower, lives alone (with help from neighbors and family), having resided in Aiken since 1992, when he and his wife, the former Gwen Bailie, moved in. He was an outstanding athlete in basketball and baseball in his youth, and eventually made a living as an insurance salesman and executive, starting with the St. Joe Valley Insurance Company, and helping the physicians to defend themselves against lawsuits.
Peck and Dicks are on track to have hundreds of neighbors in the entourage, including organizations such as the Aiken County Democratic Party, Cedar Creek Ladies Club, Marine Corps League, Town Creek Christian Academy , Daughters of the American Revolution, Friends of the Animal Shelter. and Knights of Columbus. A staple of the annual event is a horse-drawn caisson from Shellhouse Funeral Home, with Robert Shellhouse Jr. and Graham Hall both on board.
Among the military veterans considering participating are Air Force veteran Dick Chelchowski, who was on active duty from 1968 to 1988, including time with his father (the late Walter Chelchowski) in Vietnam. Chelchowski is currently trying to restore a 1942 Coast Guard Jeep for use in the parade.
The list of participating organizations also includes names such as Honda Cars of Aiken, Filipino-American Association of Greater Aiken, Republican Party of Aiken County, American Veterans with Disabilities, Silver Bluff Volunteer Fire Department and veterans of foreign wars.
The holiday itself, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, dates back to at least the 1860s. The VA website notes: “Today, cities north and south claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866 Macon and Columbus, Georgia claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claims it started there two years earlier A stone in a cemetery in Carbondale, Illinois , bears the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony was held there on April 29, 1866.”