Myrtle Beach -- A group of Columbia-area families who like to vacation on the Grand Strand hope they've ignited a new coastal tradition for Independence Day.
With U.S. Department of Defense approval and help from Joint Base Charleston, also known as the Charleston Air Force Base, "Salute from the Shore" will take off Sunday. This low-level flyover will follow the Atlantic shore in about 45 minutes from Myrtle Beach south to Hilton Head Island.
A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III jet used for cargo and troop transport will be flown low over the beach. From a helicopter, cameras will catch the scenes of the shore and people who turn out to see the plane's passage. Everyone is asked to dress in red, white and blue, and stand up and salute.
"We envision this as a wave similar to that at a football game," said John Michael Otis, one of the Salute coordinators.
Then U.S. troops deployed in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan can look online to enjoy special greetings a long way from home in the Palmetto State.
Later, they can see compilations of footage shot from the air and submitted by the public.
People are encouraged to post comments, photos, videos, and "their own interpretation of what this means to them," Otis said.
The plane's altitude will range from 500 to 1,000 feet, Otis said, referring to an example of the rigid Pentagon standards to orchestrate this event. Approval resulted only three weeks ago.
Trisha Gallaway, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Charleston, said such flyovers are common across the country for Air Force training missions. This one will start at Myrtle Beach International Airport, on a former air base that closed in 1993. From there, the crew will soar by other points such as Surfside Beach, Garden City Beach, Pawleys Island, Sullivans Island, Edisto Island, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island.
"It just happened to work with our schedule," she said of the timing for the Salute event.
The Air Force wing commander in Charleston also agreed on merits of the cause, Gallaway said.
Otis said he was among four families, all primarily ages 35 and younger, involved in the Salute. Active work began with meetings in September and the first of several applications filed with the Pentagon in December, then some 10- to 12-hour days in the past few weeks to finalize details.
"We started talking about celebrating the Fourth with some sort of military tribute like this," Otis said. "Our vision for this to be a very simple reminder for the entire coast of South Carolina of why we're celebrating the Fourth of July."
Lining up a plane and crew free for this voyage took patience, Otis said, especially with aircraft from Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter and neighboring McEntire Air National Guard Station near Eastover in use overseas.
Tom Griffin, chairman of the event, said the Salute group's original idea was to cover the entire Eastern seaboard, but obtaining Pentagon clearance for that level of aerial support would have posed too huge a pursuit.
As long as the group could tie into an existing local event, though, the S.C. route could fly, with a C-17, which Griffin called part of the "backbone of the Air Force for transport."
Pawleys Island's longtime annual Fourth of July parade proved an ideal event partner, Griffin said.
Also officials at Ocean Lakes Family Campground, seaside near Surfside Beach, has organized a "Salute to the Troops" ceremony for its estimated 30,000 guests, who can watch the plane go by. After the flyover, the campground's minister will speak, followed by the playing of the anthems of all five service branches, and a presentation of colors and military salute by the Vietnam Veterans Association of America Chapter 925, based in Surfside Beach.
Griffin sees the whole coastal South Carolina turnout going beyond a regional or state gathering.
"South Carolina has a ton of people on the beach, up and down from all over, from many, many states," Griffin said.
Otis said he and organizers hope this effort reflects the deep appreciation of the heavy S.C. contingent in the U.S. armed forces.
"This was something we felt was more important now than ever," Otis said. "It's just something we see as a real positive for the state."