UNION — The Union Rotary Club is honoring the memory of two Rotarians who devoted their lives to serving humanity by contributing to relief efforts in The Philippines.
On Nov. 7, Typhoon Haiyan struck The Philippines, and during a presentation to the Union Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon, Rotary District 7750 District ShelterBox Ambassador Col. Edward A. Hamilton shared with his fellow Rotarians the grim statistics of that natural disaster.
“The typhoon is reported to be the largest storm ever to make landfall and left a path of destruction that has left the country reeling,” Hamilton said. “To put this in perspective, the storm was 300 miles wide, close to the width of the distance between Boston and Philadelphia.
“It was a larger storm than Hurricane Katrina and was a Category 5,” he said. “The storm had winds of over 195 miles per hour with gusts up to 235 miles per hour.”
As for what the typhoon left in its wake, Hamilton quoted Philippines Interior Minister Mar Roxas who said “The devastation is … I don’t have words for it, it is really horrific. All systems, all vestiges of modern living, communications, power, water all are down.”
The City of Tacloban was the area hardest hit by the typhoon, and Hamilton quoted the city’s mayor — who he said was nearly killed by the storm — who said “I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them; we are looking for as many as we can.”
Hamilton said that a total of 4.3 million people have been affected by the storm, with at least 340,000 being displaced.
“Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in The Philippines are homeless and without clean water or food in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan,” Hamilton said. “The level of devastation is heartbreaking isn’t it? We have heard reports that thousands of people lost their lives.”
Among the organizations coming to the assistance of those whose lives have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan is ShelterBox, an organization that Hamilton said began in 2000 when a Rotary Club made ShelterBox its millennium project. The organization takes its name from the durable plastic box which contains a number of items that Hamilton said are designed to provide those who have lost their home to disaster with shelter as they struggle to get back on their feet.
While the contents of the boxes are tailored depending on the nature and location of the disaster, Hamilton said they all include a custom designed family tent. Hamilton said the tents and their poles are tested in wind and rain tunnels with winds reaching 120 kilometers per hour. He said the tents and poles are so sturdy that they have been observed in use in Mexico and Haiti two-three years after the initial disaster.
Among the other items the boxes include are:
• Waterproof ground mats
• Thermal fleece blankets
• Mosquito nets
• Children’s activity pack
• Tool kit
• Water container and purifier
• Cooking equipment
• Warm hats and gloves
Beginning with earthquake victims in India’s Gujarat state in 2001, ShelterBox has worked in more than 90 countries, responding to more than 200 disasters caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, volcanoes and war. Hamilton said this includes Syria where ShelterBox is providing assistance to people fleeing that country’s ongoing civil war.
In The Philippines, Hamilton said the country is hit every year by typhoons and ShelterBox has responded to those disasters 13 time since 2004. Hamilton said the organization has delivered 4,700 boxes during that time and has prepositioned stock at Clark Fair Force Base
Since Typhoon Haiyan struck, Hamilton said ShelterBox has already sent 200 boxes to families affected by the storm. Hamilton said that ShelterBox personnel are already on the ground in The Philippines carrying out assessments in Cebu, Bohol, and Tacloban. He said the goal of ShelterBox is to help 4,000 families In The Philippines.
Two of those families will get that assistance thanks to the Union Rotary Club which following Hamilton’s address donated $2,000 to ShelterBox in memory of Col. William Jackson Whitener and Dr. Paul Kent Switzer Jr.
Whitener and Switzer, both of whom died in 2012, were long-time members of the Union Rotary Club whose dedication to public service both as Rotarians and in their professional lives and in military service was recognized by Rotarian William Jeter during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We as Rotarians try to emphasize the importance of local community projects and we also are an international club that conducts projects globally as part of Rotary International,” Jeter said. “We felt this project was a good way to honor Col. Jack Whitener and Dr. Paul Switzer.”
Jeter added that he was most pleased along with his fellow Rotarians that Whitener’s and Switzer’s spouses — Martha Pacolet Whitener and Toccoa Wise Switzer — were able to attend Tuesday’s ceremony.
Jeter pointed out that Switzer had been a battalion surgeon in World War II serving in North Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium and Germany. He said that Switzer received the Silver Star for his courageous actions during the D-Day Invasion and a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he suffered during the war.
After returning to civilian life, Jeter said Switzer worked as an instructor at MUSC where he not only taught but did extensive, original research on sickle cell anemia, rheumatic fever, and alcohol abuse, publishing several papers on those subjects. As a result of his clinical and academic achievements, Jeter said Switzer became a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.
Switzer then returned to Union County where he would practice medicine as a primary care physician for nearly 60 years until his retirement at the age of 90.
In addition to his military service, academic and research activities, and medical practice, Jeter said Switzer also served others through his lifelong membership in Grace United Methodist Church, as a Rotarian, and a Paul Harris Fellow.
For that lifetime of service, Switzer received many honors over the years including the Order of the Palmetto in 2011 and the Union County Centennial Cornerstone Award in 2012.
Jeter said that Whitener’s military career as an infantry officer, which began when he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1946, was a distinguished one that involved assignments throughout the world including commanding a reconnaissance platoon in the 1st Infantry Division; a Parachute Company in the 82nd Airborne Division; an infantry battalion in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii; and a mechanized brigade in the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany.
Whitener also held staff assignments at the battalion, battle group, regiment, and Army Group level. He also taught English at West Point and was the institution’s Chief of Staff from 1967-1969.
In addition, Whitener was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
After retiring from the military in 1975, Jeter said that Whitener became Dean of USC Union, serving in that capacity from 1977-1984, becoming its first Dean Emeritus. He served on the S.C. Commission on Higher Education from 1985-1993 and was its chairman from 1988-1993.
During that time he also served on Gov. Carroll Campbell’s Commission on the Future, the Board of Trustees of the S.C. Research Authority, and the S.C. General Assembly’s Select Committee for the Education Improvement Act. After leaving the Commission on Higher Education, Whitener was asked in 1993 to serve as Interim Chancellor of USC Upstate.
For his work in education, Whitener received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Lander University and the Order of the Palmetto.
In addition to his 37 years in Rotary and his membership in Grace United Methodist Church, Whitener’s public service in Union County included working with the Union County Historical Society to reopen the Union County Museum, create the historic trail, and restore the Cross Keys House. Whitener was also the founding chairman of the Union Community Foundation and worked to bring the Timken Sports Complex to Union.
During the last years of his life, Whitener would receive still more honors including being named Union County Veteran of the Year in 2008 and 2012; a Palmetto Patriot in 2010; and receiving the Union County Centennial Cornerstone Award in 2011.
Hamilton said that, given that they’d devoted their lives to serving others, it was appropriate that the club honored Whitener and Switzer through ShelterBox.
“They were humanitarians, they cared deeply about people,” Hamilton said. “As military officers they’d both seen disaster first hand. So they understood how people have suddenly lost everything. They understood the significance of the ShelterBox program.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.