PICKENS — The United States’ involvement in Vietnam throughout the 1960’s and early portion of the 1970’s was far from popular, but doesn’t mean the ultimate sacrifice of those who served should be forgotten or diminished in any way.
For Pickens County, Spc4 Charles Johnson was the first to lay down his life in Vietnam on March 30, 1966, serving with the 1st Air Cavalry following a stint with the 82nd Airborne as well.
Although Johnson has been missed by his family, brother John Howard Johnson, also a Purple Heart recipient, summed up their elation at the opportunity to remember his sacrifice by so many in attendance.
“We appreciate the people that took the time to come out here and help us celebrate today,” Johnson said Saturday. “This is not only for Charles Johnson, this is for all of our veterans today.”
The ceremony, a re-dedication of the Charles Johnson Jr. Memorial Park in his honor, was attended by local dignitaries, members of the community, Pickens High School Color Guard, and members of the American Legion, who were instrumental in helping bring the memorial to Pickens County. The park is located at Griffin Ebenezer Baptist Church, 405 Garvin St. in Pickens.
“As for the American Legion, we’re proud to be here honoring one of our own, but from the point of view of this community and this county, this is a great day,” American Legion Commander Ken Keith said. “There’s a togetherness being shown here that should be here every day.”
The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors followed by a hymn and invocation. S.C. Rep. Davey Hiott was also on hand and served as one the event’s speakers, presenting not only a flag to the Johnson family but also a House resolution honoring Johnson’s service to his country and the Palmetto State.
“Any time we have an opportunity to honor our veterans we need to do that. Our veterans go unappreciated far too often,” Hiott said. “There are men and women still out there fighting every day. Those that come home, we don’t do a good job of showing them the appreciation they deserve.”
The treatment veterans receive has been a point of contention in recent years concerning the U.S.’s involvement in conflicts overseas, but Hiott didn’t lose sight of the honor for Johnson.
“When we have a soldier or veteran that makes the ultimate sacrifice, we need to remember them,” Hiott said. “We need to let their families know that we love and care for them too.”
Although it was a day honoring Charles Johnson, the surviving members of Johnson’s family weren’t caught up in their loss as much as they were pleased so many remember the sacrifice he made for freedom.
“This is going to be a part of our heritage and can be remembered for years to come,” Bernice Wakefield, Johnson’s sister, said of the day. “My mom was a single parent, and worked hard to raise us right, and I know she’s looking down from heaven and watching with us today. It’s just a wonderful thing to see so many people here for all our veterans.”