Romance, marching bands, Clydesdale horses and a Wando High School grad were part of a Super Bowl ad that showed a small-town tickertape parade to honor veterans.

Shannon Cantwell, who was Miss Wando in 2007, played a key role in the commercial when she entered her boyfriend, Army Lt. Chuck Nadd, in a contest to be recognized as a hometown hero returning from Afghanistan.

"I just saw it on the VFW website and never really thought he would be selected," she said.

The event happened in Winter Park, Fla., Nadd's hometown, after the couple reunited at the Orlando airport when he returned from a seven-month deployment. Cantwell kept mum about the homecoming surprise until it happened.

"I wasn't going to mess things up for him," she said.

Budweiser teamed with the town to honor Nadd. A group of veterans participated to give a soldier the welcome home he never had.

"It's rather sad that our nation doesn't celebrate the return of veterans the way we once did," Cantwell said.

There was some mixed reaction to the ad on social media. Critics felt the spotlight on Nadd was undeserved because of his relatively short time of service, Cantwell said.

"A lot of people loved it," she said. "I can't tell you how many people said they were brought to tears."

Complete and sincere respect for the sacrifices of all veterans was a theme of the ad, she said. "So many people have given so much more."

Budweiser plans a year-long campaign to recognize service members returning from Afghanistan, she said.

Nadd and Cantwell also attended the Super Bowl.

"It was certainly an experience that both of us will never forget," she said.

Cantwell works in Washington, D.C., as a legislative correspondent for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

She completed her senior year of high school at Wando after her family moved to Mount Pleasant from Colorado. "I love South Carolina," she said.

Nadd, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, is a 2011 West Point graduate. His homecoming surprise began when he returned to Fort Drum, in northern New York state, in early January. Less than 24 hours later he was on a private jet to Orlando for what his commander described as a public relations assignment.

Cantwell and Nadd reunited Jan. 8 at the airport with one of their moments together captured in the Super Bowl ad. She made arrangements for his mother to come in from Alabama and for friends to fly in from around the nation.

"It was exciting to see his friends and family," she said.

At Wando, Cantwell led the women's track team to a first-place finish in the region as she competed in 800-meter and 400-meter races. She received the Wando Warrior Award for Most Valuable Track & Field Female Athlete. She was a member of the National Honor Society.

She continued to compete in track at Furman University, where she was elected president of her senior class and graduated summa cum laude in 2011 after studying economics and political science. In 2012 she earned a master of science in international management at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where she represented the United States as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She is described as a champion Irish step dancer.

Cantwell founded Athletes for Africa, a 501(c)3 corporation that has led multiple mission trips of Furman student athletes to Swaziland.

She has worked in Shelby's office for a year.

"I love my job," she said. "Who knows what the future holds?"