City's minority World War II soldiers honored
Eleven minority World War II veterans, an often overlooked segment of America's greatest generation, were honored Tuesday at Rock Hill City Hall during the city's first Day of Honor.
Among them was 80-year-old George Hope Sr., a Rock Hill native who enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1941 and spent the war helping building airstrips on a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean as a spry soldier barely out of Emmett Scott High School.
Nearly 60 years later, Hope gingerly stood Tuesday and stepped away from his walker when his name was called. Though he took only a few small steps, Hope journeyed to a place he rarely visits - memories of his time spent as a corporal demolition specialist for the 18th Aviation Engineers of the Army Air Corps.
"I will never forget that outfit," the soft-spoken Hope said. "We stayed together for so long."
For his years of service from 1941 to 1945, as well those of the others, city officials, members of the Committee on Human Relations, No Room for Racism Committee, the Baha'i Community and U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., finally honored them decades after the Allied victory.
"For whatever reason, we don't examine the past nearly enough," Spratt said. "Because of discrimination, the courage and sacrifice of many who served were never reported accurately or recognized sufficiently."
That all came to an end Tuesday, in Rock Hill at least, when Fletcher Beck Jr., Melvin Harris, James Mills, Jesse Moore, Dudley Patton Jr., Bobby Plair Sr, Samuel Reid Jr., Johnnie Roseborough, City Councilman Winston Searles and Horace Wade Sr.were honored along with Hope.
"Heroism doesn't recognize race," Spratt told the veterans. "You helped this country rise up and live out its creed, that all men are created equal."
A lot has changed in the days since their service, but their actions no doubt helped pave the way, Spratt said.
In a time when minorities were treated no better than second class citizens by most of society and even the military, Rock Hill's heroes were a part of a group of some 20 million other American heroes who fought in what Spratt described as "the greatest war in American history."
Yet, after minority soldiers won 20 medal of honor citations in the Civil War and eight in the Spanish-American War, none were bestowed such honors in either World War. Despite the prejudices shown them, minorities continued to display bravery time after time, Spratt said.
"America had to learn the hard way, and we're still learning," Spratt said. "The men we honor tonight taught us well."
As simple as the gesture may seem, Rock Hill saying thank you is as close to a medal of honor this group of nearly forgotten heroes will ever come and, at least for Hope, that's enough.
"I think this is wonderful," he said, clutching his plaque and the arm of his teen-age sweetheart Louise, who he married nearly 63 years ago. "I'm so proud."
So is Rock Hill.
"This is the land of the free and the home of the brave," said Thi Le, chairwoman of the city's Human Relations Day Committee. "They are no longer unsung heroes. Their song has been sung."
Contact Jason Cato at 329-4071 or email@example.com.
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