Laurens County, South Carolina – When Laurens resident Willie Rice was drafted to fight in Vietnam on Oct. 30, 1966, his cousin John Rice made a final decision.
“I told him if he was going, then I was going too,” John Rice said. “Then later when I landed at Cam Ranh Bay, it was 110 degrees and as soon as the heat hit my face, I said to myself, ‘What a fool, what a fool!’ But I was there and knew I had a job to do. And luckily I made it back.”
The Laurens cousins completed tours in Vietnam and both of them did make it back, as did four other veterans who told their stories in a video tribute played Saturday morning during the City of Laurens Veterans Day Celebration.
Held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the historic Capitol Theatre, the program featured the Navy JROTC from Laurens District High School and members of Davidson Brass, which played the Star Spangled Banner and the armed forces medley, as veterans throughout the theater stood to represent their branches of the armed services and saluted the flags held by members of American Legion Post 25.
In addition to the Rices, the video also featured John Britt, Lynn Boyd, Eric Delgado and Jim Peterson, and offered each of them the opportunity to tell a bit about their sometimes terrifying experiences serving their country, why they chose to serve and the positive ways they were changed as a result of their service.
“What really inspired me to join the army were the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” said Laurens City Manager Eric Delgado. “Military service gave me a lot of resilience. There was a point in my life when I couldn’t move my legs and I said if I ever get back being able to use them again, I wouldn’t take it for granted.”
Willie Rice told of watching the medevac helicopter come over the Vietnam jungle where he lay bleeding heavily, and how grateful he was to see the Red Cross insignia on it, knowing it was coming for him.
The City of Laurens has posted the video on its Facebook page and it’s also on The Laurens County Advertiser Facebook page.
The City of Clinton held its Veterans Day program on Saturday at the traditional time of 11 a.m. in the lobby of the municipal center, with Clinton High’s JROTC serving as color guard, and Clinton resident, retired Col. Corey Cannon, as the featured speaker.
Cannon said veterans are selfless and disciplined.
“It takes a lot of discipline to do what somebody else tells you to do in the face of danger,” Cannon said. “It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. Many times you don’t get to choose what you want to do, but you did what you were ordered to do, and this requires discipline.”
Numerous veterans attended the service in Clinton and, in honor of those soldiers who did not come home, they saluted during the playing of Taps by CHS JROTC Cadet Lt. Col. Cainen Ham.
Clinton Reserve Police Officer and Vietnam Veteran Charles Campbell also explained that a plaque with the names of Clinton High School alumni killed in action while serving in Vietnam is set to be installed at the school later this year.
This story originally ran on Page 2 of the Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.