Monuments dedicated in honor of heroes

COUNTY — On the anniversary of D-Day on Saturday, Pickens County paid tribute to its four Medal of Honor recipients and honored their families.
County officials designated June 6 as Congressional Medal of Honor Dedication Day, and a handful of celebrations marked the occasion.
The day began with a ceremony at the newly renovated Liberty Civic Auditorium, where retired U.S. Marine Corp Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient, spoke and a biographical video about Pickens County’s four recipients was shown.
The four local heroes — Furman Smith, William McWhorter, Charles Barker and Donnie Howe — were honored in individual ceremonies near their own communities later in the day.
The four were all recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. They fought in three wars and died in battle under extraordinary circumstances.
When they left to go to war, they hoped to come home. They did their growing up in rural areas where hard work and respect for elders were as much a part of the landscape as fried chicken on Sunday after church.
None woke up in the morning and did their chores with the thought, “I’ll die young, as a hero.”
They went to small local schools and learned about the wars fought to protect their country and secure its freedom, as most boys do. It was something that happened “Back in the olden days.”
But then the ordinary world they lived in changed. And they changed, too.
They left home. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and one young wife said their goodbyes.
Although everyone must have had secret worries and fears, no one really believed that these goodbyes would be the last.
Some of these young men had never been away from home before, away from the state or even the county.
Some had never seen the ocean. That was to change. We were at war and the world as they and their families knew it would never be the same again.
These four Pickens County boys had no way of knowing they hadn’t long to live and would be forever remembered as great American heroes.
World War II claimed the first two.
Smith was 19 years old in 1944 when he was killed in Italy. He was shot multiple times but continued fighting to protect two wounded comrades and cover the retreat of his unit. He was one of the Smiths from Six Mile, a large family who loved and stood by each other through good times and bad.
He made the decision to hold off a German force alone to save the lives of those he served with at the cost of his own. Although wounded many times, he fought to the end.
McWhorter hadn’t been married long when he died in the Philippines in 1944. He was 25 years old, a machine gunner, and made a split-second decision to save the life of his assistant at the cost his own. When a Japanese soldier threw a hand grenade into the trench from which McWhorter was firing, he held the grenade against his own body to deflect the explosion. He was a member of the McWhorter family of Liberty, who had lived in the area for generations.
The Korean War took the life of the third.
Barker was killed at Pork Chop Hill in Korea in 1953. He grew up in Pickens County and went to school here. He was 18 years old and fought valiantly to save the lives of the men he served with. He lost his life protecting them.
The Vietnam War took the fourth.
Howe, a lance corporal in the Marines, died there in 1970. He was 22 years old and was a rifleman and also in communications. Born in Six Mile, he too came from an old Pickens County family, linked with others through kinship and friendship.
During the few final seconds of his life, he threw his body on top of a hand grenade to save those he was with.
Although many who knew them personally are also gone now, steps have been taken to ensure these men and their heroism will never be forgotten by the communities they were a part of.
Volunteers from many military service organizations, area scout troops, JROTC groups, city and county law enforcement agencies, fire departments, universities and local high schools worked as a team to put the event together, coordinated by the Pickens County Tourism and Marketing Department.