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Our local heroes

Posted: August 28, 2014 10:23 a.m.
Updated: August 29, 2014 6:00 a.m.

I was truly proud to be able to report during the past week an historical event right here in Camden. It was the naming of the I-20 bridge that crosses the Wateree River for Kershaw County’s three Medal of Honor recipients. The Medal of Honor is the greatest and most prestigious award bestowed on those serving in the United States military and to receive it means you’ve done something exceptionally special, often at the cost of your life.

The medal was first established in 1861, early in the Civil War. Since that time, it has been presented to a mere 3,400 recipients. Not all that many over a span of 153 years. To have three Medal of Honor recipients from our rural county is also remarkable, as where the feats of bravery that led to Richmond Hobson Hilton, John C. Villepigue and Donald Leroy Truesdell being presented the honor.

Fortunately, none of the three lost their lives in combat, but all were seriously wounded and their actions prevented the deaths or serious injuries of many of their fellow soldiers.

Hilton earned the medal for his actions on Oct. 11, 1918, at Bancort, France, during WWI. Hilton’s company was under heavy machinegun fire and Hilton charged the gunners, firing his rifle until it was empty, then his pistol. He killed six enemy soldiers and captured 10. He suffered a wound from an exploding artillery shell that resulted in the loss of an arm. Hilton was named after Richmond Hobson, who also received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Spanish-American War, making him the only namesake of a medal winner to also receive the medal himself.

Villepigue was at Vaux-Andigny, France, only four days later on Oct. 15, when he and two other men went ahead of their platoon to scout the village. They were also met with machinegun fire that killed one of Villepigue’s colleagues and wounded the other. He advanced around 500 yards ahead of the rest of his platoon and killed four enemies with a hand grenade. From there he crawled 150 yards forward, where he rushed the machinegun nest, killing four, capturing 10 and seizing two enemy machine guns. After being joined by the platoon, he also sustained a serious injury to an arm.

Truesdell’s heroism came years later on April 24, 1932, near the Coco River in northern Nicaragua. He was second in command of a patrol of the “Guardia Nacional” fighting against armed bandit forces in the area. While searching along a trail for the bandit group, a grenade fell from its carrier and struck a rock, igniting the detonator. Knowing the grenade would explode in a few seconds, Truesdell rushed to it, picked it up and tried to throw it away. The grenade detonated before he could release it, blowing off the hand that held it and causing other serious wounds to his body. By taking the shock of the grenade himself, Truesdell saved the other patrol members from death or serious injury.

Hilton and Villepigue are buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery in an area called “Little Arlington.” There is also a monument there for Truesdell, who requested cremation and that his ashes buried in the rose garden at Jame Leroy Belk American Legion Post 17.

I never served in the military, so maybe I don’t even deserve to say this -- but I have the utmost admiration and support for service men and woman and our veterans. Kershaw County has a few active veterans’ organizations and they have my full cooperation in giving them the recognition they all deserve. I hope they have your support, too.

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