Most of Aiken's Hometown Heroes banners, honoring veterans from the past 80 years, have yet to be put in place in observance of Veterans Day, but a couple are already on duty on Laurens Street.
The intersection with Park Avenue is now home to a banner saluting Neil Fleeman, who served in the Air Force for 34 years – 20 on active duty and 14 more as an officer/instructor in the Air Force Junior ROTC. His 69th birthday is today. About three blocks away, at Barnwell Avenue, is a banner in honor of 97-year-old Charles Bennett Lide, an Army veteran who got on board in 1955 as a civil engineer at the Savannah River Plant – as the nuclear reservation was known at the time – and worked there until 1986.
Lide, a native of Marion, lives a few yards away from the banner, at Trinity on Laurens, which has been his base of operations since December 2018. His church base, St. John's United Methodist, is also a couple of blocks away.
"He is a walking, talking history book," said the Rev. Greyson Blackwell, one of the pastors at St. John's, acknowledging Lide's familiarity with a wide variety of topics and his willingness to share ideas about them.
Several of Lide's neighbors spent a few minutes with him Friday afternoon, when he took a wheelchair ride on the sidewalk to get his first look at the banner now in place.
Fleeman, a native of Athens, Georgia, spent his JROTC instructor years at Independence High School, in Charlotte, and Burke County High School, in Waynesboro, Georgia, calling on a background that included flying F-14s (fighters) and completing several tours through Europe, the Pacific and southwest Asia, spread between 1974 and 1994.
His banner surprise also came Friday afternoon. "This was a really special day for him," said Fleeman's wife, Sharon.
She said she saw the banners in 2019, noticed a newspaper article on the topic and got on board from that point, with the help of project booster Linda Caldwell.
"It's another special thing that Aiken does," she added. "I think we can never thank our veterans enough."
Caldwell said the banner project got its local start in 2019, and the banners were up most recently in Aiken from mid-May through July 4. The local count includes 68 banners in Aiken and 36 in North Augusta. Plans are in place for the remaining banners to be put up in both cities Nov. 1.