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Forty-five years later, Lugoff man receives Distinguished Flying Cross

Part of The Wall That Heals ceremonies in Camden

Posted: May 7, 2018 4:56 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Photo by Julie Putnam/

The Wall That Heals was open 24 hours a day – and was visited at all hours, during the time it was in Camden.

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Four days of honor, remembrance and healing took place as Camden hosted The Wall That Heals (TWTH), a mobile replica of the national Vietnam War Memorial.

The Wall That Heals arrived in Camden, escorted by more than 120 veterans on motorcycle, all of whom would then park their bikes and lend a hand in erecting the wall.  Its sleek, stark lines and the 58,000 names on granite panels would stand in silent honor against the backdrop of green fields, historic palisades and the presence of the Kersaw-Cornwallis House just across green fields.

A special wreath laying ceremony Wednesday night started the week. Thirteen wreaths were placed before the wall to honor the 13 Kershaw County natives who lost their lives in Vietnam. It was during this ceremony that Elma Hough-Hogan was honored; she is the widow of Sgt. Matthew Hough of Bethune, the first serviceman from Kershaw County to lose his life in Vietnam.

“It’s hard, but I wanted to come, and I want to come this weekend with my grandchildren,” she said.

So many would share memories for the four days the Wall was in Camden. In fact, more than 14,000 people would visit the wall that heals, according to TWHT Director of Outreach Tim Tetz.

That means probably as many, if not more, stories were shared.

William Charles Russell “Rusty” Major, who played Taps each night, said he remembered many of the local fallen heroes.

“My memory of Larry Jeffers was of him standing over  me, crying, because he thought he’d killed me,” Major said, laughing as he remembered a day during high school football practice when he didn’t make his step and turn fast enough during some drill and was flattened by Jeffers, who had   knocked him unconscious. “Of course, I was a lousy football player, that’s why I joined the band.”

Jeffers, for whom American Legion Post 195 in Lugoff is named, was mortally wounded during a firefight when he advanced with very little cover to lay suppression fire on the enemy in order to save the lives of members of his squad.

Kathy Tate and Allene Catoe, both of whom live in Westville, were one of many to seek out Grover C. Bowers on the wall. Both were family friends; one was actually in school with Bowers before he went to Vietnam. Both remembered the trauma of finding out he was not coming back home.

“Something like that is devastating to a small community like that,” Catoe said. “Everybody knows everybody and everybody feels the loss. So it wrecked the community, but then it also pulled us closer together.”

Both of them said they were very glad the Wall came to Camden and said they believe it does, in fact, bring healing.

“I’m feeling sad, but proud,” Tate noted. “I’m proud of every one of them, proud of them for everything they went through.”

American Legion Post 17 Commander David Fuller said he was very pleased with the turnout and thanked everyone involved in helping with such an important endeavor.

“Kershaw County loves her veterans,” he said.

Tetz said the 14,000 plus turnout was not only about double what anyone expected, but was significantly larger than many cities much larger than Camden.

“I’m very impressed -- this shows why Camden was chosen,” he said. “Whether it was the smallest Cub Scout or the oldest veteran, they all knew how important this was and they rallied around and did what they could do to help. I think it’s very telling that the high school football coach shows up with several of his players to help – and the students are so touched by it they all come back today to help us take it back down. I think it’s very telling when young children get something out of it -- and you see them come back and are telling their parents about it. That is exactly why the city of Camden was chosen to host The Wall That Heals”

One story finally resolved some four and a half decades after the fact, but with a happier ending. After a 45-year delay, former U.S. Air Force Captain Johnny Blye, who lives in Lugoff, had one of the U.S. Air Force’s most distinguished medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, pinned to his jacket. Maj. Gen. Scott Zobrist, commander of the 9th Air Force at Shaw Air Force, presented the honor in front of hundreds of Vietnam War veterans, other veterans and active military, family members, local officials and the public during an 11 a.m. ceremony Saturday.

The ceremony took place on Legion Field, part of Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, serving as South Carolina’s only host of The Wall That Heals for 2018. The names of more than 58,000 other airmen, Army soldiers, Navy sailors, Marines and more who died during the Vietnam War stood behind Blye as he accepted the honor on a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During a short speech after receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, Blye made it clear he meant to accept the medal on behalf of many; he had several groups he to whom he wished to dedicated the medal, saying he was only one of many who served in Vietnam.

“I dedicate to it to our American military heroes who perished during the Vietnam War,” Blye said, asking them to applaud them. “The Vietnam War wounded warriors, I want to dedicate it to them. Some of them are still dealing with Vietnam today…. I want to dedicate it to Vietnam POWs; some of them were imprisoned, being tortured, for more than five years and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I want to dedicate it to our Vietnam War heroes who are still missing in action. Never forget that. On a personal note, I want to dedicate it to my fellow B-52 crew members who perished during the Linebacker II operation. They were sacrifices which started bringing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War to a close rather quickly.”

Blye specifically mentioned a B-52 “buddy,” his college friend, Capt. Ron Perry, who perished during Linebacker II over Hanoi.

“Ron had been married for one week before those raids started and, unfortunately, his B-52 was one of those 15 that were shot down during that campaign, so he did not survive,” he said.

Blye went on to dedicate his Distinguished Flying Cross to all those “military members who served during the Vietnam War, and I mean all of them,” whether in combat or support roles; the families of those who had “sons, daughter, close friends and others who were a half a world away” in Vietnam.

“Many of the families had to deal with the loss of loved ones then, and they are still, in many cases, grieving for those people today,” Blye said.

Finally, he also dedicated the medal to those who are serving in all branches of the military today.

Earlier in his speech, Blye said he was grateful for the large turnout for “a Tennessee hillbilly.” He also joked about how he wanted to wear his original flight suit, but that it had “shrunk” during the intervening years. Blye thanked American Legion Post No. 17, especially historian Glen Inabinet; Shaw Air Force Base, including Zobrist; Kerhsaw County Council Chairman, and retire major general, Julian Burns, for his assistance in putting together the ceremony; Barbara Ray, the county’s Veteran’s Affairs officer; as well as his wife, Vicky, and daughter, Amy.

Blye said receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross after 45 years is “even sweeter” and that he can appreciate it more now than he might have in 1973.

He ended his speech by, literally, saluting his fellow veterans, living and deceased.

“May God bless everyone one of you, and may God bless the U.S.A.”

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