Community honors local soldier killed in Vietnam

By Ben Robinson, Courier Staff

PICKENS — Various local officials gathered Thursday behind Griffin-Ebenezer Baptist Church to dedicate a new playground in memory of SP4 Charles Johnson Jr., the first soldier from Pickens County killed in the Vietnam War.

Rep. Davey Hiott said he was proud to be there, and shared regrets from Sen. Larry Martin, who was unable to attend. Hiott also presented the Johnson family with a flag from Martin that had been flown over the state capital. Hiott then presented the family with a resolution that was read in the South Carolina legislature honoring the sacrifices of Johnson.

Johnson died March 30, 1966, from wounds suffered on the Vietnam battlefield.

The guest speaker for the dedication was Roger Owens.

“It is truly an honor to participate in a program honoring one of our fallen veterans,” Owens said.

Owens acknowledged that the ceremony had been made more special because it honored all Vietnam veterans and was scheduled during Black History Month.

Owens entitled his speech “Look How Far We’ve Come,” highlighting advancements in race relations in the past few years.

Owens, who also served in Vietnam, said he did not agree with the purpose of military action in Vietnam, “but it was my duty as a member of the military to serve,” Owens said.

He said he wore the uniform proudly despite the fact that when he returned home to Clemson and asked for a cup of coffee he was refused because he was black.

Owens said that when he was discharged from the army he and his wife were looking for a home in Texas, but the realtor would not show it to them because “it was in a white neighborhood.”

Owens mentioned that the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black unit in World War II, was the only bomber unit to finish the war never losing a battle.

In 1948, President Harry Truman noted the efforts of blacks in World War II desegregated the armed forces, Owens said.

After World War II, efforts for rights for black citizens increased, Owens said.

“We fought for freedom for everyone,” Owens said, “now we wanted to fight for our rights.”

Whereas in 1962 there were only two black generals in the U.S. armed forces, now 10 black generals have earned five-star rankings, he said.

“The military has led the nation in providing opportunities for African-Americans,” Owens said. “Still, progress has been slow, but thank God, the trend is headed the right way.”

Owens paused to honor Johnson.

“Spc. Johnson, you were a credit to yourself, the U.S. Army, the county of Pickens and your family, ” Owens said.

To close the ceremony, a bugler played Taps.