They served our country with honor
By Stephan Drew, Editor
This Friday, November 11, is Veterans’ Day. We set aside that day to honor those among us who have served in any branch of the military. They sacrificed and suffered to protect the very freedoms that we often take for granted. Recently, I was fortunate enough to talk with a few of these great men:
WILLIAM “BILL” PACE
Born in Dillon, SC, William “Bill” Pace was 17 years old in 1958, when he joined the U.S. Marines and went to Parris Island for Basic Training. He was earning 30 cents an hour, driving a tractor before he joined up. After Basic, he went to Camp Le Jeune, in Jacksonville, NC, for 45 days before being shipped off to Camp Pendleton and later, to Point Arguello, both in California. Pace was in the marines for 6 years from 1958 to 1964.
He proudly says, “We were the 1st Battalion of 1st Marine Regiment in the 1st Marine Division.” Pace spent 4 years on Active Duty, 2 years in Standby Reserve, and still carries with him a composite photograph of himself with 3 of his military buddies. The photograph shows them as young men as well as how they look today and it is a testament to the strong bonds of brotherhood forged during those difficult times.
Pace isn’t the only veteran in his family, though. He spoke fondly of his deceased brother-in-law, who was also a military veteran. “During World War II, he was in Africa, he was in Sicily, he was in Italy and also made the landing at Normandy (during D-Day), where he flew in gliders,” Pace recalls, “He served in just about every theater of World War II except Asia. But, he never wanted to talk about it.” He explained that many veterans are uncomfortable talking about their battle experiences. “That’s a very private, sacred thing,” he said.
Recalling a funny moment he had recently with a “younger” marine, Pace said he asked the marine, “Did you get taught the 3 B’s?” The young marine seemed puzzled. Pace said, “That’s Blind ‘em, Burn ‘em and Blast ‘em.” Pace is approaching 80 years old but, he’s still tough. We thank him for his service to our country.
A native Darlingtonian, William Sumner quit high school in the 11th grade and went into the U.S. Army at the age of 18. He took his Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC, and while there, Sumner says they ran everywhere they went. “We ran long distances, took long hikes and ran all the time, to the barracks, mess hall and BX (Base Exchange),” he said. After being stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, he trained in the missile program, learning all the equipment and guidance programs of the MIM3-NIKE AJAX system. They tested the missiles and then loaded them on railroad cars to be transported to Sandy Hook, NJ. Later, while stationed at Rad Canyon, New Mexico, Sumner operated both the radar and missile systems. “They would fire a target and we had to hit it,” Sumner said. During his 20 years and 18 days, Sumner was in Vietnam, Korea, Guam, Okinawa and also Wake Island. When Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev visited New York, Sumner flew Kruschev’s son around New York and New Jersey. He speaks emotionally of a young member of his unit while in Palau (Micronesia). “There was a young fellow in our unit and he was really young. On his 14th birthday, he landed on the beach at Palau. During the shelling, he was knocked into a shell hole. He had a concussion and was crying all day. He stayed in that shell hole till dark, when the captain found him,” Sumner stated. During his time in service, he was in a helicopter company, worked in field maintenance, and survived 2 tours in Vietnam. He recalls two spots in the Pacific more than others. “Wake Island was just a big sand dune but, Guam was really beautiful, with mountains and everything. Just beautiful,” he said. He retired in January of 1973, after 20 years and 18 days. He is not the only military veteran in his family. His oldest brother, Brooks Sumner Jr., was a pilot who flew “the hump”, transporting food, supplies and equipment on a path from India to China. His middle brother, Alec Sumner was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Korea and at Fort Bragg, NC. During his service, he received an Army Commendation Medal with “V” for valor. After he retired from the military, he worked at Coker Pedegreed Seed Company for 17 years. We appreciate all he has done for this country.
Born and raised in Darlington County, Billy Baldwin was a quarterback at St. John’s High School and graduated in 1953. After graduation, he immediately went to work, first at the cotton mill, then for Dixie Cup. That summer, he bought a 1954 Chevrolet Delray and was drafted into the U.S. Army on October 6, 1954, leaving his brand new car behind. He spent several weeks in Columbia, SC, for Basic Training. On November 1st of that year, he was put on a ship to Germany and then, moved to Tulle, France where his whole unit lived in Quonset huts. This was near the beginning of the Cold War, when tensions around the world were very high and most military units remained on full alert for long periods of time. Baldwin recalls what his unit did to pass the time. “We had a softball team in Tulle and played football in Nancy, France,” he recalled, “But, we were out in the middle of nowhere. We would be on one side, they were on the other and the only other thing around was some sheep.” One of the men in his unit had been a fullback for Notre Dame before he joined the Army. Baldwin was in the 3rd Battalion, and, during his tour, he was stationed in Tulle, Nancy and Paris, France. He finished his 2 years and left the military on October 10, 1956. Recently, he received a Quilt of Valor from the QOV Foundation. We thank him for his service to our country, then and now.
HEYWARD BLACKMON SR.
Another native Darlingtonian, Heyward Blackmon was 18 years old when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1958. He had previously been in the Naval Reserve in Florence, SC, for 6-8 months before joining the Navy. After enlisting, he was sent to Great Lakes Naval Base, Illinois for approximately 16 weeks of Basic Training and Electrician School, where he graduated at the top of his class. With such high scores, he could choose his own deployment. He was stationed at Little Creek, VA and, then, at Camp LeJeune, in Jacksonville, NC, for more training before heading overseas. He was stationed in the Carribbean, the Mediterranean and also in Africa, while on a Landing Ship Dock. He remembers two of the ships he was on – Casa Grande LSD and Plymouth Rock LSD. Blackmon said it took about 30 days to get to South Africa. “The ship’s top speed was about 12 knots,” he stated. When asked which part of his tour he loved most, Blackmon did not hesitate. “Africa,” he said, “the country was beautiful. From the West Coast of Africa, to the Horn, to Capetown, Elizabethtown, no matter where we went.” But, he also remembers the poverty of the the native Africans. “We didn’t really know it but, we grew up. But, when I saw how those people lived, I realized we had gone further than they had. It was hard to believe they lived like that. It was really a surprise to me,” Blackmon stated. He recalls many of the things he observed and had plenty of stories to share, one about a memorable dining experience. “We wanted to try everything (food) we could. One night, we stopped at this place and ate all kinds of things. When we pulled out our money and tried to pay, they said, ‘No, no! We take care of!’ They wouldn’t let us pay for it,” he said, “Just about everywhere we went, they wouldn’t let us pay. They appreciated us that much.” And, we appreciate all that you all did, Mr. Blackmon. Thank you for your service and Happy Veterans’ Day, everyone!