Remembering the Upstate's Fallen Soldiers

On January 2, 2004, Army Captain Kimberly Nicole Hampton, a native of Easley, became an unexpected footnote in American history. While flying an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter over the outskirts of Fallujah, she tragically became the first female military pilot to be shot down and killed by an enemy of the United States.

She was also the first female from South Carolina to die in Iraq.

historical marker dedicated to the memory of Captain Hampton - who had also served in  Korea and Afghanistan - sits at the front of Easley City Hall. The main branch of the Pickens County Library System bears her name. A flag pole in her honor stands tall at Presbyterian College, her alma mater, in Clinton.

"She chose to lead her troops on a mission she knew would be particularly dangerous," Kimberly's mother, Ann, said in a recent interview with TIME magazine.

In January 2010, Army Specialist Geoffrey Whitsitt, of Taylors, died in Afghanistan, from wounds he suffered when enemy forces attacked the Humvee he was driving with an improvised explosive device (IED).  

At Whitsitt's funeral, friends and family said it was his dream to serve his country. According to a report on WSPA.com, his body was returned "to a hero's welcome," with people lining the streets to honor him as the processional routed from Greenville-Spartanburg Airport through Greer and to the funeral home.

In December 2011, Army Private First Class Justin Whitmire, from Simpsonville, was killed by an IED as well. Twenty-year-old PFC Whitmire was on just his 19th day in Afghanistan when the attack occurred. Serving as a medic in the Army, he wanted to continue his career in medicine once he was back in the states.

Hampton, Whitsitt, and Whitmire are, unfortunately, only three of many Upstate military members that have paid the ultimate price for our country. Ones that we should not only remember on Memorial Day, but ones that we should honor always.

And across the Upstate, many people do just that.

To help keep the memory of their son alive, Specialist Whitsitt's parents - Steve and Debbie - helped to launch what is now an annual event in the Upstate, A Hero's 5K. In February 2012, nearly 500 runners and walkers took part, raising over $7,500 for the Upstate Military Support Coalition -  a grassroots organization dedicated to recognizing and caring for our local military personnel who are deployed to a war zone.

One group, Honor Flight Upstate, is helping area veterans honor those that have fallen by taking them to visit World War II, Vietnam, Korean and Marine Corps war memorials in addition to viewing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

"It is always important to honor those who have paid the ultimate price so that we can be free," said  Paul Howell, Honor Flight Upstate director.

Veterans who have never had the opportunity to see the memorials due to physical or financial limitations apply for flights that are scheduled throughout the year, and there is no cost to the veteran to participate in the program, which is funded by donations.

To date, eight flights have allowed over 650 veterans the opportunity to go on the trip, and the program is growing to soon allow veterans of the Korean War the opportunity to visit the memorials as well, according to Powell.

"We take for granted that we can enjoy our barbecues and ski on the lake over Memorial Day, but we need to know that the freedom we have came at a tremendous cost, a price we can never repay," said Powell. "The fact that someone offers to lay down their life on behalf of another person they don't even know is an absolute miracle."

Another Upstate memorial event - Nashville Connection's Heroes Salute - will come to Greenville for a second year, bringing along with it the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a portable scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to Greenville's TD Convention Center from June 27-30.

"The Wall holds more meaning than anything else related to that war, and bringing a replica of that memorial to the Upstate allows people who will never make it to Washington a chance to visit, find a name, and pay respects to those who were lost," added Powell.

Proceeds from the four-day Heroes Salute event benefit a number of local charities supporting veterans, including the Welcome Home veterans' shelter in Spartanburg, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and Honor Flights of the Upstate.

Additional Resources:

KIMBERLY'S FLIGHT: The Story of Captain Kimberly Hampton, America's First Woman Combat Pilot Killed in Battle by Ann Hampton and Anna Simon

Photo credits:

Cover: An Honor Flight participant pays his respects, courtesy of Harvell Photography.

Top: Kimberly Hampton, courtesy of Wikipedia.com.

Middle: A Hero's 5K, courtesy of the T.R. Tribune.

Bottom: American Veterans Traveling Tribute, courtesy of AVTT.org.

James Richardson is a freelance writer and the publisher of the Travelers Rest Tribune. When he's not writing, James enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and two children at any one of many places across the Upstate.