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Scene, Sunday, July 1, 2007

Since 1977, my family has celebrated our nation’s independence in a big way by hosting a Fourth of July pig pick’n. For those of you not raised in the southern portion of the United States, what I have just described is also called a pig roast or barbecue.

Family and friends gather for games, food and fireworks.

Eighty people showed up for the first pig pick’n in 1977. The number has now grown to around 500, including an entire church congregation.

Six hundred people were there in 1991 for my brother Jack’s wedding. He had just returned from the Gulf War, and July 4th seemed like an appropriate day for him to get married.

My most vivid memory from that year, besides a beautiful ceremony in the gazebo, was all the yellow ribbons with which my mother had decorated the yard, house and fence leading up to it. It was obvious to everyone that she was glad to have her son safe at home.

Each year, my father makes the announcement that once you are invited, you are always invited, so it’s not hard to figure out how the guest list keeps growing.

The official cook is my uncle, Dalton Marsh, who arrives in the wee hours of the morning to stand over a cooker all day in the sweltering heat. He and two of his brothers served in the Navy.

They are by no means the only ones present every year who spent time in uniform. In fact, there are usually veterans of every war our nation has fought since World War II in attendance.

My father’s first cousins, Raymond and Stuart Upchurch, will be there. Both are Marine veterans of World War II. Raymond served in the Philippines, and Stuart was in the first wave in the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.

He was 17 at the time and turned 18 during his 100 consecutive days of combat. Only Stuart and one other in his unit survived.

When my family is able to make it to the annual celebration, Stuart and I share stories about what Okinawa was like in 1945 compared to the mid-1990s.

My stories don’t even compare to his, so most of the time I listen and learn.

Later, when my father asks all veterans to rise, my uncle Robert Emerson, who arrived in Korea just as the truce was being signed, will stand up alongside many veterans from Vietnam, the Gulf War and the ongoing battle in the Middle East.

It never fails to surprise me how many of them there are. As the years pass and the older veterans are unable to make it, younger ones take their place.

Most years, there is music, which varies from gospel to bluegrass to rock, all provided by local bands and even family members. There are many games to keep the children busy and out of trouble and even door prizes for kids of all ages.

Around mid-afternoon, the atmosphere turns serious when the pig is cooked and it’s time to eat. But all the hungry guests are not the reason for the change in atmosphere.

That moment is when my parents, along with Uncle Dalton and Aunt Marie, address the crowd. They thank everyone for coming, invite them back next year and remind everyone of the reason for the celebration.

That is when the veterans stand up and for a few minutes, nobody thinks about how hungry they are.

It’s a somber moment in a day of fun and festivities, but the event wouldn’t mean much without it. After a prayer is said, folks line up for the barbecue, hot dogs and banana pudding.

I wish I could invite all of you to join us in the hot Carolina sun for a day of great food and celebration. This column is my way of making you feel like you’re there among us, helping yourself to the banana pudding.

Go ahead and have a second helping!

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has moved eight times in 16 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. They have been stationed in various locations, including Okinawa, California, Texas and their current home in Springfield, Va. E-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or find the Zichs online at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.


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