UNION — The observance of Veterans Day carried over into this week as Union County High School held a program Monday morning to honor those who have served and currently serve in the U.S. military.
Veterans who attended Monday’s program included Jessie Bentley, Anna Tipton, Paul Davis, Andy Fowler, Jantzen Childers, John O’Dell and Franklin McCullough.
The program began with the Pledge of Allegiance and presentation of the colors by the UCHS JROTC. The national anthem was then performed by the UCHS band, orchestra and concert choir.
Other contributions to the program included Kiana Brown reading “In Loving Memory” by Joanna Fuchs, the UCHS GT Music class performing “You Raise Me Up,” the UCHS Concert Choir performing “Peace Song” by Greg Gilpin, Morgan Morris reading “In Your Honor,” the UCHS band and orchestra performing “Marches of the Armed Forces,” and a duet of “God Bless America,” performed by Andrea Byrd and Bess Lawson.
Principal Floyd Lyles welcomed the veterans in attendance as special guests.
“Without you, we would not have the opportunity for free education,” Lyles said, commenting on the sacrifices made by the men and women of the military.
Col. John O’Dell introduced Childers as the program’s guest speaker.
“Our guest speaker today is a true American hero, and that term is overused,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell pointed out that Childers was drafted immediately after graduation from Wofford College. He said Childers was a squad leader in the 9th Infantry Division, which he said was “one of the toughest and most dangerous in all of the military.”
O’Dell also discussed what a veteran could tell about another just by looking at a uniform. He said Childers’ Purple Heart means that he has shed blood for his country. He brought attention to Childers’ Bronze Star.
“The Bronze Star can be given for meritorious service or valor,” O’Dell said. “Mr. Childers won his for valor.”
“The Silver Star is given for gallantry in combat,” O’Dell added. “They are not given lightly. Mr. Childers wears two Silver Stars.”
When Childers took the podium, he explained to the gymnasium full of UCHS students that being drafted or being in a war was the furthest thing from his mind when he was in high school. He explained that he was drafted after going to college at Wofford.
“I found myself the most lonely and homesick I had ever been in my life,” Childers said. “I don’t know a veteran who hasn’t experienced some of those same feelings.”
Shortly after being drafted, Childers was deployed to Vietnam.
“I can’t describe it for you, but I was there,” he said. “I really got into finding the VCs and destroying them. You believe in what you’re doing.”
Childers said he’s never experienced another bond like the ones formed in Vietnam.
“You see these guys every single day; you’re in the mud with these guys; you see them cry,” he said, adding that Vietnam didn’t even feel like the same planet as home. “We all talked about going back to ‘the world.’”
Childers said that the squad leaders each had someone assigned to carry their PRC-25 radios during combat, and the soldier assigned to carry his was Mike Allendorf. He recalled the moment when he and Allendorf were pinned down, ready to crawl back from where they came.
“I told Mike to go ahead and start crawling back, and that was unusual,” Childers said, explaining that he and Allendorf were typically side-by-side. “Mike said, ‘J.C., come on.’ He didn’t crawl 50 yards, and he was right on top of a booby trap.”
Childers described the moment he lost his friend, which he said was most certainly a turning point in his life.
“I held him in my arms and watched him die,” Childers said. “I realized what freedom was all about.”
Childers mentioned coming home from the war and going to a ball game. He said the national anthem was played, and he watched people remain in their seats with their hats on.
“It was all I could do not to tear their heads off with their hats still on them,” he said. “We fought for the flag and for freedom, but we also fought for the people with disrespect. I don’t like that, but we fought for them to have the right to sit if they want to.”
Childers urged students to realize the benefits they receive from the sacrifices made by veterans.
“We’re here in a warm, comfortable place because of the sacrifices that have been made through the years and are still being made,” he said. “We are so blessed to be here. It’s your right to talk during the national anthem; to choose schools; to come and go as you please. You don’t owe politicians; you owe veterans.”
Following the program, a reception was held for veterans in Room 600 of UCHS. After the veterans in attendance left the gymnasium, Lyles discussed respect with students. He said he was pleased with their behavior for the most part, although there were some discipline issues he would address individually.
“People paid the price for our nation, and it’s important to be respectful,” Lyles told the students. “It’s an honor to serve our veterans.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.