UNION COUNTY — Local news is often just that, local, but in 2013 events from outside Union County, both recent and from long ago, made their way onto the front page.
Guns And Schools
The year began with local officials responding to the Dec. 12, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six faculty members. The massacre reignited the debate over gun control and a concurrent debate over how to best secure America’s schools against such atrocities in the future. The steps proposed in the weeks that followed the massacre ranged bans on assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons, and large ammunition clips to putting armed guards in every school and/or allowing faculty members to carry guns on campus.
Sheriff David Taylor said he was asked repeatedly if he would be putting School Resource Officers in every school in the county. Taylor said that while he favors placing SROs in every school, his office did not the personnel or funding to do so. He added that while an SRO might not have been able to prevent an attack like the Sandy Hook massacre, their presence would let anyone contemplating such an atrocity know that they would face resistance. Furthermore, Taylor said that while an SRO might not be able to stop a school shooting they might nevertheless be able to prevent the massive loss of life.
While he favors putting SROs in every school in the county, Taylor is opposed to turning schools into armed camps. He said having an armed guard at every school would create a prison-like environment. As an example, Taylor pointed out that he didn’t want his grandson, a student in kindergarten go from watching “Thomas The Train” on TV at home to school where the first thing he sees are armed guards at the door or teachers carrying guns.
Union County School District Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall said that teachers would not be armed because state law forbids anyone other than law enforcement personnel from carrying guns on campus. Woodall pointed out that while the Sandy Hook massacre had renewed the debate on school security, there had actually been an increased emphasis on school security since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. She said that incident was the reason the district developed crisis management plans and practices them annually.
On the issue of gun control, Taylor said he is opposed to it, pointing out that bans on assault rifles or semi-automatic weapons or large ammunition clips would not prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook. He said that, for example, banning large ammunition clips would have no effect because a person who is proficient with a weapon can quickly removing the clip and continue firing.
While describing himself as a gun advocate who feels that gun control would leave law-abiding citizens sitting ducks in the face of armed criminals, Taylor said there should be some limitations. Taylor said he believes no one outside the military or law enforcement should have access to assault rifles. He said that body armor should also be limited to military or law enforcement personnel only.
Union Public Safety Director Sam White said that an alternative to the proposed bans would be requiring persons to go through background checks and gun training and safety programs. White said this would be similar to the process people applying for concealed weapons permits go through and should apply not only to weapons bought at stores but also to weapons bought at gun shows and through private sales.
Gun violence was also part of a grim milestone in 2013: the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy was shot while riding through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, while traveling in a presidential motorcade with First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy at his side. Though rushed to Parkland Hospital where doctors worked frantically to save his life, Kennedy was pronounced dead a short time later.
Kennedy’s assassination stunned the American people and even though 50 years had passed, his death was still a vivid memory for a number of Union County residents in 2013.
Union County Recreation Department Director Becky Cobb hadn’t reached school age when Kennedy was killed, but she remembered her parents talking about it and how the entire town was overcome with sadness.
Union Mayor Harold Thompson, who was in elementary school at the time, remembered being called in from the schoolyard and told by the teacher that the president had been assassinated. Thompson remembered how his family was glued to the TV up until Kennedy’s funeral. He also recalled seeing Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s alleged assassin, murdered on TV by Jack Ruby.
Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair, who was in the eighth grade at the time, remembered school being let out for a couple of days. He said his family had one of the few TVs in their neighborhood and how their neighbors came to their house to watch the events following Kennedy’s assassination.
Sinclair said he and one his brothers began to collect Kennedy’s books and writings. He said Kennedy’s guiding principle “‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ is and should be a guiding principle for all.”
Korean War Veterans
Among those who asked what they could do for their country were the men and women who, a decade before Kennedy became president, answered their country’s call to arms to fight communist aggression in Korea.
July 27, 2013, was the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War.
During the three years leading up to the armistice, the United States provided nearly 90 percent of the 341,000 soldiers that fought in the war under the United Nations in defense of South Korea. Of those Americans who fought in the war, more the 33,000 were killed and another 7,900 are listed as missing in action.
The service of the American veterans of the Korean War was commemorated in 2013 at both the local and national levels.
In Union County, local veterans of the Korean War were given special recognition at the Veterans Day program including a variety of local, national, and even international honors.
For those who served during the Korean Era but not on the Korean peninsula or at sea in its territorial waters or in air combat or air support over the peninsula, those honors included certificates from the Veterans Day Parade Committee, the office of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, and the U.S. Department of Defense. They also received special medallions from the U.S. Department of Defense honoring them for their service during the era.
The veterans who did serve on the Korean peninsula or at sea in its territorial waters or in air combat or air support over the peninsula, also received the certificates from the committee, Sen. Scott, and the DOD. They also received a medal from the DOD embedded with a piece of barbed wire from the border of the two Koreas.
Both groups also received copies of “Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation Honors War Veterans for 60 Years of Growth,” a hardbound, 160-page coffee-table book printed by the public and private sectors of South Korea lead by the Ministry of Patriot and Veterans Affairs and the Federation of Korean Industries. The book thanks American veterans for defending South Korea and enabling it to achieve the success and prosperity it enjoys today.
A total of 47 veterans of the Korean War were honored during the Veterans Day program.
Home From Kosovo
Before it honored its veterans of the Korea War, Union County welcomed home thoe veterans of another overseas deployment of the American military.
In June, 86 soldiers from the South Carolina Army National Guard 1st Battalion 118th Infantry Regiment — which were part of more than 400 who made up the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade — were welcomed home from their nine-month deployment to Kosovo during a homecoming ceremony at the National Guard Armory in Union.
The 218th MEB was mobilized in May 2012 and deployed to Kosovo that August. During their deployment, the 218th MEB helped maintain a safe and secure environment as well as freedom of movement for the residents of Kosovo as part of the Multi-National Battle Group-East in support of Kosovo Force (KFOR) 16.
Soldiers of the 218th MEB earned numerous awards for their outstanding efforts during the deployment, including 93 Army Achievement medals, 59 Army Commendation medals, 18 Meritorious Service medals and various other awards for weapons proficiency and physical fitness.
Among those welcomed home was Sgt. Jessica Sousa who was greeted by her son, Matthew Young, and daughter, Aubree Sousa; her mother, Sherry Moore; her sisters, Erica and Christine Sousa; a sister-in-law, Melissa Jarrett; her aunt, Lisa Thomas; nieces, Ansli Sousa, Daniella Ponce, and Emma Jarrett; and cousins, Aiden Watkins, Ashley Powell, David Powell and Isaac Powell.
Sousa said while deployed in Kosovo, she got to interact with locals who were welcoming and loved having Americans there. She said her children and family were what she missed most, as well as freedom to come and go as she pleased.
Sousa also attempted to describe the overwhelming feeling she said she experienced when returning to Union.
“Holding my children makes me realize how much I truly missed being with them every day,” she said. “And seeing my whole family made me remember the real reason I joined the military.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.