The 2012 Person of the Year, agreed upon by a panel of influential community leaders and the GreerToday.com staff, is the greater Greer area Soldier. We humbly bestow this honor upon the community’s military brothers and sisters who give so much defending the United States and its freedoms.
Mark Tucker Illustration
"We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.
– Will Rogers
Greer's Sgt. Channing B. (Bo) Hicks was killed in action Nov. 16. Mourners lined Hwy. 14 from GSP through downtown Greer where he was given a hero's welcome upon his return.
Pfc. Adam Ross was planning to propose to his fiance upon his return from Afghanistan. He was killed in action two months before he had that opportunity.
'When we came back home after World War II, all we got was a bus ticket. When I was dropped off at the bus station nobody was there to give me a ride. I had to walk from the bus station to my home.'
– John Morgan, WWII veteran
A huge American flag flutters high in the middle of E. Poinsett Street, anchored at each end at the crest by two fire trucks’ fully extended ladders. It’s a heartbreaking gesture of love, honor and respect for fallen heroes.
Greer has been the solemn stage for soldiers killed in action as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Only this time, it was for one of its own – Sgt. Channing B. Hicks, 24, father of two children. Hicks was killed Nov. 16 taking hostile fire and an attack by an improvised explosive device (IED). He was the first soldier from Greer killed in action in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns since 2001. At last count, 6,626 American soldiers have lost their lives in those wars.
Greer was a wounded community that fateful day in November as it collectively wrapped its arms around not only Hicks, but also all soldiers who have served their country, and this community before him. Active military and veterans were widely present, noticed by their salutes as the hearse carrying Hicks, passed them during the procession. A 5-year-old dressed in an Army uniform saluted while others tearfully paid their respects.
Two months previous (Sept. 16) to the day, Pfc. Adam C. Ross, 19, of Lyman and Spc. Joshua N. Nelson of Greenville were killed in an ambush in Afghanistan when they were attacked by small arms fire,” according to the military. Ross’ family was shown the love and support from Greer’s community.
Ross had been in Afghanistan for three weeks. His brother, Jonathan, 24, was a Pfc. stationed in Seoul, Korea at the time. Their father, Staff Sgt. Dudley Ross, served 10 years in the Navy before transferring to the Army National Guard.
Perhaps this generation, more than any other, takes personal the ultimate sacrifice its native sons and daughters give for their country.
John Morgan, a WWII veteran who attended Hicks’ burial with full military honors, only shook his head and said, “When we came back home after World War II, all we got was a bus ticket. When I was dropped off at the bus station nobody was there to give me a ride. I had to walk from the bus station to my home.” Morgan didn’t make the comment in regret, but more acknowledging how a community now honors its soldiers.
The Honor Flight Network, a non-profit, honors WWII veterans for all their sacrifices. Two flights of veterans were transported from Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in Greer to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. WWII veterans are dying at the rate of 1,000 a day.
“I believe we’re seeing a new part of patriotism,” said Greer Police Sgt. Chris Forrester. He served 13 years in the Marines.
Forrester said he understands the demands of “being away from family. I was in the infantry and I was gone all the time,” Forrester said. “Soldiers miss out on family gatherings. A lot of the guys have kids. You feel that the time you’re (deployed) you’re trying to do a job. There’s a lot of sacrifice on both ends.”
Forrester said it may be difficult for the public to understand a soldier’s eagerness to return for additional tours in a war zone. “They (soldiers) consider the people left behind their brothers and sisters and it’s a sense of duty to be with them until they all come home safely,” Forrester said.
Sgt. Martin Bowen of the Greer National Guard Armory processed more than 700 soldiers to destinations in 2012 – in war zones or to defend U.S. interests in other parts of the world. “I fought as hard as I could to get back to Afghanistan, but they wouldn’t take me,” Bowen said.
Forrester, like Ross and Hicks, was destined for military service. Forrester’s grandfather served in the Army and they frequently talked about life in the military. “The people in the military come from a lot of different walks of life. Some maybe live in a poor community and it’s their way out,” Forrester said. “Some join because it’s tradition with the family. For me, I was looking for learning leadership ability.”
Bill Carithers, a Navy veteran who served three tours in the Korean War and one in Vietnam, attends funerals for fallen soldiers “to pay respect to the boys and thank them for their service,” he said.
As a returning soldier from Vietnam, Carithers said it was better back then to blend into society than draw attention to his service in Southeast Asia. Protesters burned American flags, rioted on college campuses, cities and national landmarks and taunted servicemen for fighting in an unpopular war. There were no hometown processions for the 58,282 soldiers and non-combat deaths in Vietnam. There was no welcome home fanfare.
Now, 40 years after the Vietnam War, that era of soldiers is getting its due. “The Vietnam veterans are finally getting recognized because of how we welcome home our soldiers now,” Carithers said. “To that I am thankful.”
A rider with the Patriot Guard said, “We ask our riders who are from the Vietnam era to stand, and we all tell them, ‘Welcome home.’ ”
Greer doesn’t camouflage its patriotism for everything red, white and blue.
Megan Watts dedicated a song, “Remember You Today” to her father, Lt. Colonel Thomas James Watts, a flight surgeon deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, during a performance at Greer Idol last summer. The lyrics tell the story of a soldier leaving a family to fight for his country. That performance was streamed live to her father where he watched his daughter perform in real time. The crowd gave Cpl. Watts a standing ovation as the camera panned Trade Street.
The city honored its veterans and active military and their families at Freedom Blast, the annual July 4 celebration. The 2012 Leadership Greer class, at the festival, unveiled a Disabled American Veterans trailer it had painted and refurbished as a portable office it could take on-site to visit and serve the needs of vets.
Greer Idol was also the stage where Adam Ross’ parents were introduced and given a standing ovation honoring their son. Ross, expected home in two months, was going to propose to his fiancé, Rachel “B.B.” Lowery, a graduate of Greer High School.
Buffets, Inc., a Greer-headquartered national family / buffet restaurant chain (Ryan’s, Fire Mountain, Old Country Buffet, etc.) is among a growing group of food and beverage establishments offering year-round discounts to military and their families plus a free meal to the soldiers on their birthday. Buffets is also an official partner of the Armed Services YMCA, hosting two music promotions to support its efforts.
Children of the Creative Advancement Afterschool Program at Victor Gym drew patriotic scenes and wrote verses on 706 holiday cards to servicemen who were processed through the National Guard Armory. "I know when I was serving and we would get cards and care packages from our families and friends that felt good. Getting them from the public and children means a lot more," Bowen said.
"What a great position to be in to support our military,” Ann Cunningham, Director of Parks and Recreation, said.