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Pickens County gears up for Congressional Medal of Honor Dedications

Published: May 13, 2015

By Olivia Fowler

Pickens County has designated Saturday June 6 as Congressional Medal of Honor Dedication to pay tribute to its four Medal of Honor recipient and to recognize their families. The two hour event begins at 10 a.m. in the newly renovated Liberty Civic Auditorium where Councilman Trey Whitehurst will be the emcee. A biographical video “The Life of Four Heroes” will be shown. This short film chronicles the lives of Furman Smith and William A. McWhorter, who were killed during World War II, Charles Barker, killed during the Korean Conflict and James Donnie Howe, killed during the Vietnam War.

Furman Smith, William McWhorter, Charles Barker and Donnie Howe, young men from Pickens County, 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.

Furman 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.

William McWhorter hadn’t been married long when he died in the Philippines in 1944. He was 25 years old, a machine gunner, who 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.

Charles Barker was killed at Pork Chop Hill in Korea in 1953. He grew up in Pickens County and went to school there. 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.

Donnie 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 insure these men and their heroism will never be forgotten by the communities they were a part of.

Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Major General James E. Livingston, will be the featured speaker.  Soloist Amy Evans will sing the National Anthem and the 282nd Army Band Brass Quintet from Fort Jackson will perform.

Following the program four individual dedication ceremonies will be held simultaneously for each recipient on the sites of three county fire departments and the Liberty Magistrate’s Office.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders and the Sons of Liberty Riders will provide a motorcycle escort for the families to each memorial site.

 There will be a color guard, a 21 gun salute, the playing of taps and a memorial wreath will be laid at each site. Some military vehicles of the era will be on display.

Volunteers from many military service organizations, area scout troops, J.R.O.T.C. groups, city and county law enforcement agencies, fire departments, universities and local high schools have worked as a team to put the event together coordinated by the Pickens County Tourism & Marketing Department.

The dedication ceremony for Furman Smith will be held at the Six Mile Fire Department (629 Mt. Olivet Rd, Six Mile, SC 29682), with concurrent ceremonies being held for James Donnie Howe at the new District 2 Fire Department (110 Rice's Creek Rd, Liberty, SC 29657), William McWhorter at the Liberty’s Magistrate’s Office (310 W. Main St, Liberty, SC 29657), and for Charles Barker at the Concord Fire Department on (756 Concord Church Rd, Pickens, SC 29671).

The public is invited to attend.  You can read about this event as it develops at www.visitpickenscounty.com/calendar  or follow on social media.