The News & Press remembers local Purple Heart recipients
Darren Byrd: ‘You could hear the rounds buzzing by your ears’
Darren Byrd of Darlington said he joined the Army in 2004, when he was 23 years old, because “I didn’t want to be 43, 44, look back, and wish I had done it.”
He did 15 months in Afghanistan, and on May 3, 2005, near the town of Arghandab, he took part in the battle for which he received a Purple Heart.
A scout team was coming under fire, said Byrd, now 39 and a security guard at the H.B. Robinson nuclear plant in Hartsville. His platoon and another platoon charged out to help and found themselves in a major firefight.
“There were enemy combatants all in the valley, the mountains, they were everywhere,” said Byrd. A team leader, a huge man, had stepped on a mine, and Byrd helped carry him a mile to get help.
“You could hear the rounds buzzing by your ears,” Byrd said. He got shot in the hand, “wrapped it up” and kept going. “It was about a 15-hour fight,” Byrd said. He estimates 105 enemy combatants were killed before it was over.
The hand wound for which he received a Purple Heart “wasn’t that bad,” he said. “Not compared to some of the other guys.”
— Bobby Bryant
James Chandler: ‘A man of great strength’
Maj. James E. Chandler of Darlington was wounded in September 1966 while serving in Vietnam with the Marine Corps’ 1st Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division, from February 1964 to January 1967, his family said.
He was awarded a Purple Heart for that injury, but it was only part of a distinguished military career that spanned some 30 years.
After returning to Darlington, Chandler enlisted in the S.C. Army National Guard with the 163rd Support Battalion, Company B.
He graduated from the S.C. National Guard OCS program and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, his family said.
He later transferred to Orangeburg, where he served as the commander of the 218th Infantry Brigade, 163rd Support Battalion Company D.
His family said Chandler died in 2020 from lung cancer that was directly related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
A friend remarked, “So in the end, Jimmy gave his life for his country.”
Chandler’s family remembers him as “a man of great strength who fought valiantly for the country he dearly loved.”
Samuel Dixon: ‘You had to fight everything’
When Samuel Dixon of Darlington landed in Vietnam in 1967 when he was 19 year old, it was the sheer scale of the jungle that hit him hardest.
“It was a jungle!” recalls Dixon, 72. “And everything in there was against you. Even the animals. You had to fight everything.”
“For a young man who just left home … it was something I never experienced in my life before,” said Dixon, who had nine siblings back home. “To survive, you had to go along with the program.”
Dixon was in the Army Infantry in “The Big Red One,” 1st and 2nd divisions. He’d been drafted, and except for basic training at Fort Jackson, had no military experience. On July 17, 1967, he was wounded when a Claymore mine exploded.
“They had it buried in the sand, buried in an anthill” – one of the giant, several-foot-high anthills that peppered the jungle. “I got shrapnel all over my (left) hand.”
A firefight followed – a “U-shaped ambush” – and about eight men in Dixon’s platoon were killed. Dixon wound up having to walk 15 miles out of the combat zone. Dixon said he still wears his Purple Heart on a chain around his neck. “Only two (kinds of) people get a Purple Heart – a dead one and a survivor.”
Recalling the war, Dixon said: “What got me is that we fought, then I came back home, and nothing had changed. Couldn’t find jobs. They called us baby-killers. I couldn’t wear my uniform home. I had to buy civilian clothes.”
Darlington’s Cecil Henry Dutton, Sr., remembered for his
service and for receiving Purple Heart in Vietnam
Cecil Henry Dutton Sr. of Darlington was awarded the Purple Heart in 1964, having been wounded in Vietnam. He was in the Army for 22 years while serving tours in Korea, Japan, France and Vietnam. He was married to Shelda Beasley Dutton; they have four children, Crystal Stokes of Hartsville, Kimberly Smith of North Carolina, Cecil Dutton Jr. of Hartsville and Dennis Dutton of Darlington. Also, three grandchildren, Lauren Smith of Woodstock, Ga., Ashley Stokes Jung of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Tyler Smith of North Carolina.
Flowers: ‘You were glad to get back home’
Jimmy Flowers, 69, said he has spent virtually his entire life in Darlington, but it was in Vietnam that he suffered the wounds for which he received two Purple Hearts.
Flowers was drafted into the Army Infantry when he was 19, and spent a year as an infantryman in Vietnam.
He arrived there in September 1970.
Not very long after turning 20, he suffered two battle wounds in 1971.
In one case, he was shot in the leg.
In the other, he was hit by shrapnel from a fragmentation grenade.
“It’s nothing that has really interfered with me over my lifetime,” Flowers said of the wounds.
The war “was a learning experience for anybody who went through it,” he said.
“ …A lot of people clam up and won’t talk about it. … You were glad to get back home” at the end of your tour.
Flowers said he would spend 30-40 days at a stretch in the jungle, sleeping on the ground at night and plowing through dense foliage during the day.
“It was a paranoid (experience), 365 days,” he said.
“You were the one getting shot at.” Flowers also was awarded two Bronze Stars, among other citations.
Roy Martin: Proud American and Purple Heart Recipent
This is Roy Martin, a proud Marine. He received a Purple Heart in 1968 for severe injuries in Vietnam in October 1968. He was hospitalized for several months and during this time had to learn to walk and talk again. Thankfully, he has lived a long, productive life but the injuries he suffered have taken a toll on his health the past few years. Our family is proud of his service to our country and the sacrifices made for our freedom!
Gerald Tanner: ‘They had me back in the field in a month’
When Gerald Tanner of Hartsville arrived in Vietnam in 1969 at age 19, he felt lonely.
“It was just being lonely, being away from your family, not knowing anybody,” said Tanner, a Charlotte native who moved to Darlington County about 10 years ago. “There’s all kinds of things that went through your head. It’s kind of hard to explain.”
Tanner, 70, said he joined the Army at 18: “I wasn’t college material. At that time there wasn’t that many jobs available, and I wanted to serve my country.”
It was a 1970 firefight that caused the wounds that led to Tanner’s Purple Heart. “I got shot in the leg,” said Tanner, who was serving as a platoon sergeant at the time. “And a mortar round went off in a bunker hole; I had shrapnel all over my body.”
But the Army needed him back on his feet as soon as possible. “They had me back in the field in a month,” said Tanner.
He received no more direct wounds during the 13 months he spent in Vietnam, but Tanner said he was exposed to Agent Orange, which caused long-term harm.
But he feared he wouldn’t make it through what turned out to be his last day in Vietnam.
The bunker next to his was overrun and all the U.S. troops inside it were killed.
Tanner said he’s proud that he served his country and said he would sign up again today if he could.
But, he added, “Nobody knows what the war was about. We didn’t ask for it. … I thought it was useless. I think all wars are useless.”
Roosevelt Wallace: ‘We had firefights from 12 o’clock at night to daybreak’
Roosevelt Wallace of Darlington suffered two wounds in Vietnam when he was 21 years old. The first was the worst.
It was 1968 and he was in the Army Infantry. “We were going to set up an ambush, and we got ambushed,” recalled Wallace, 72, who describes himself as a lifelong Darlington resident.
“There were eight of us in that squad, and they hit six of us,” Wallace said. “Nobody got killed.” Wallace was hit in the neck – what could have been a fatal wound. He had to wait 11 or 12 hours to be airlifted off the battlefield. “I bled a lot,” he said. “I lost consciousness.”
The Army sent him to Japan to recover. That was Purple Heart No. 1 for Wallace, in the fall of 1968. The second was in 1969, when, back in action, Wallace and 75 to 100 U.S. troops were attacked by “waves” of enemy regulars.
Wallace said they were outnumbered at least 2-1. “We had firefights from 12 o’clock at night to daybreak. … I got it in the arm that time.” That was Purple Heart No. 2. In addition to those honors, Wallace also holds a Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters and other citations.
Wallace said the war is a complicated thing to talk about. “It wasn’t a war we were sent there to win. That’s what makes it complicated.”