I am writing this article for two reasons: first, to inform you how Conway got it’s National Guard unit, and to impress on you the importance of the National Guard. If you will pardon me, I think I can best do this by telling you my personal experiences.
Although three of my ancestors held high rank in the State Militia, a General, a Colonel, and a Captain, I did not join the National Guard to keep up a family tradition, or from patriotism, but for the money. I knew I could make $20.00 a month, which was quite a tidy sum during the height of the depression.
After World War I, which this country thought would end all wars, the United States government had closed almost all military bases, and those that remained had been allowed to deteriorate until they were useless for all practical purposes. The strength of the armed forces had been reduced to a mere 120,000, and most of them were in embassies and ceremonial positions, with little or no effective force capable of carrying out a mission of any size. The National Guard was limited in size, equipped with obsolete weapons, some discarded by the regular army. In fact, when we were sent on maneuvers, we made wooden models for guns.
I was in Battalion S2 at that time, and it was my duty to set up observation posts to gather information for the battalion so that they could be informed of the action of the opposing forces. I remember one report I heard from one of our observers. “Be on the alert, there is a woodpecker flying around here.”
We had nowhere to fire our weapons. We were stationed at Camp Stewart, GA, and the camp was full of farmers and cows. The Colonel detailed me to take two firing batteries and HQ Battery to Fernandino, FL, to fire over the ocean. We rigged up a raft on oil drums, and put a target on it. We planned to tow it out with a boat. This turned into a bigger problem than we had anticipated. Getting that raft over the breakers was no easy task. The raft was overturned several times and the boat was swamped. Looking back, I realize now how lucky we were that no one was seriously injured or drowned. We finally got the target out and when we fired our machine guns, the tracer bullets would hit the waves, and it looked like they were ricocheted right back at us. No one was hurt, but I was pretty nervous.
To shoot our rifles, we would have to find an old barrow pit. The Air force was part of the army at that time, and they were having their own problems. No planes were available to pull sleeves for us to fire upon. We were equipped with the 37mm AA gun, which the army realized was inferior to the new 40mm gun used by the British. So we were sent to England and attached to the British for training. They had considerable experience with the 40mm and gave us excellent training.
To increase the size of the armed forces from 120,000 to 8,000,000 when World War II broke out was no simple matter. You cannot draft a bunch of men and send them to a camp. There have to be trained officers and enlisted men to handle the inductees. These cadres were taken from the National Guard and the regular army. When I was shipped out of this country as a Battery commander, I had lost all my officers and half of my enlisted men to form those cadres. I had all brand new lieutenants and half of my men were new inductees. We also furnished a lot of the new officers. We asked our battery commanders to recommend intelligent good soldiers who had the potential to be officers. We tested these men and if they made over 110 on the intelligence test, we contacted their home communities for a check on their character. If all this checked out, we sent them to Officer Training School. The Grand Old Seventh from New York commissioned a large percentage of its men.
Most people do not realize the time it takes to get an army unit trained and ready for action. On average it takes 12 weeks for basic training of an enlisted man and 16 or more months to train some of the specialists in an outfit. It takes a year or more to get a large unit trained to operate effectively. We were lucky that we had the time we had between the time war was declared and the large landing on D-day, 6 June 1944. Reserves are valuable for preserving specialized skills, but nothing beats the training that is received working with troops and handling the problems that are similar to those that arise in combat. The National Guard and the regular army are the only units that are available in an emergency. The National Guard is the more economical of the two.
After war was declared, the only troops available to send to the Pacific, and other areas in danger, were the National Guard and what was available of the army. In North Africa, where I was sent, the National Guard furnished the majority of the troops. This should make it obvious why I am such an advocate of the National Guard.
When I was discharged from the regular army I went to Columbia and reported to Gen. Dozier, who was Adjutant General of South Carolina at that time, and re-enlisted in the National Guard. I was assigned to my old unit, the 107th AAA Bn.
Like all veterans who returned to civilian life, I had to find a job. Before the war I had a dairy, but when I returned I found that the cows had all been sold and the equipment had deteriorated to such an extent that it was unusable. The business would have to be started all over again, and this I did not want to do. It had taken me six years of hard work and sacrifice to build my dairy, and I did not want to go through that again.
I started looking around. My good friend Charlie Shaw, who was operating Shaw Lumber Company in Florence, SC, suggested that we open a new building supply in another town. We found that Conway, SC, was the only town in the Pee Dee area that did not have a retail building supply, so we opened McIver Shaw Lumber Company there.
Unfortunately for us, four others opened building supply businesses around the same time. Johnson Cotton Company was under the management of J. P. McAlpine. James and Jack Taylor returned from service and added building supplies to their hardware store. Conway Hardware (Gene Stalvey and his father-in-law) added building supplies to their oil company. Henry B. Burroughs opened Waccamaw Supply, which was the forerunner of Pelican and New South Industries.
The first thing I noticed about Conway was that it did not have a National Guard unit. I contacted General Dozier and he told me if I recruited 17 men we could have a unit in Conway. I first contacted veterans from the army, but that was a failure. They had had enough of the army and were enjoying their freedom. One man told me he was never going to join anything except the church and the pressing club. While making a talk at one of the service clubs I quoted Gen. Washington’s farewell address where he said the defense of this country should not depend on mercenaries. Col. J. S. Dusenberry, the first West Point graduate from Horry County and a retired army officer, took me to task for my remarks. I assured him that I had the greatest respect for those patriotic professionals who make up our army, and are the repositories of knowledge and experience of the military. They are not mercenaries who fight only for money. We became good friends and he helped me a lot in my endeavor.
The time set for the induction was fast approaching and I did not have the 17 men needed. Luckily for me, I met a young boy, Charlie Allen, who had served in the army and had returned to high school to get his diploma. He was a star on the football team. He told me if I needed men, he would get them for me. He rounded up enough of the football team to overfill my quota, and the Conway National Guard was formed. The first commander was Evan Norton who had lost two brothers in the war and was the city engineer of Conway.
Next I had to find a place for the unit to meet. There was a basement under the high school. Half was used as the school cafeteria, run by Mrs. L. N. Clark, and the other half was vacant. Mr. Colie Seaborn was school superintendent and he was pleased to let us use it. We built a strong room to hold the rifles and other army equipment and were ready to operate. It wasn’t long before the school got so crowded that we had to find another location. I contacted the American Legion Post 111 which had a building which was built on land donated by Col. D. A. Spivey. It was unfortunately entailed. With the help of Mayor Busbee, James Long, Boyd Ludlam and several other World War I veterans we received permission to use the American Legion Hut. We built a second strong room on the rear of the Hut.
About that time a construction program was started to put new armories around the state. The only catch to the plan was that the local units would have to furnish the land. Burroughs and Collins had already given 50 or more parcels of land to churches and other local organizations. It would give us the land, but it would be entailed—which means that if the land was not used for the purpose given, it would return to the donor. The state had lost too many school buildings, which had to be returned to the original owners and would not accept any entailed property. Paul Quattlebaum, who owned some land on the south end of town, told me he would give us a site if the city would put in water and sewer. I went before the City Council to request the necessary funds, but the city did not have money available to make that kind of expenditure. Next I contacted Craig Wall, a man who knew who owned almost every parcel of land in the county, and asked for his help. He made some contacts and reported that there was a city block of land on 16th Avenue for sale: the price was $4,000. Don Benton, who was the commander at that time, and I called on the owner, who immediately raised the price to $4,500. I contacted Craig and told him our plight. He and Edward Burroughs loaned us the money and we bought the property on which the armory now stands on. We put on a fund raising campaign. With the good work of William Avant, the local army representative, Don Benton, and the generosity of the local people, the money was raised and the armory built. The armory has been a great asset to the city, and is used on many occasions by the people of Conway.
We all remember the important role played by the local unit. It provided help when a plane was downed at Myrtle Beach and many men died. During many storms the Guard has been called out to help residents and protect the area from looters. It is always a comfort to know that the Guard is present and able to help in other emergencies.
The National Guard is under the command of the Governor of South Carolina. Its training is done by the US Army. In a national emergency the Guard can be called into the regular army, which is under the command of the President of the United States. Desert Storm is an example of how the National Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The greatest asset of the National Guard is what it does for the men who enlist. The money they earn and their retirement benefits are obvious, but what is more important is that the men learn new skills, have incentives for advancement, meet new friends, and build up their self esteem. The Guard teaches the value of discipline and organization. I do not think that it is an accident that former National Guardsmen are so well represented in state. Many of our most successful businessmen are also former members of the National Guard. My battalion furnished five generals that I know of, perhaps more. Of course the National Guard cannot claim all the credit, but it played a very important role in the success of those individuals.
In the past, evil men and countries seeking power have started wars. Unfortunately, the same thing will probably happen in the future. We all agree that war is the greatest evil that can befall man and should be avoided if possible. However, when countries use diplomacy only for deceit and are not willing to abide by international law, force is the only choice a nation has. We must keep our country strong and our defenses up so that we can survive as a nation. Those who will not profit from the mistakes of the past will surely repeat them.
I trust the people will realize the importance of the National Guard and see that it is properly trained and equipped for any emergency that arises.
[The first roster of the unit included Don A. Benton, 1st Lieutenant, Evan Norton, 1st Lieutenant and the following privates: Charles R. Allen, John P. Bacot, Henry B. Baker, Jr., Raymond D. Booth, David R. Brown, Kelly Brown, Cornelius Cannon, Norman T. Hucks, Alton W. Lewis, Jr., Douglad D. Lewis, Howard L. Rheuark, Bruce B. Sessions, Godfrey S. Shepherd, Alfred E. Simon, Talmadge D. Ward, and Robert L. Washington.]
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