SC combat veterans help fix York vet's water pipes

National Guard soldiers repair water line for Vietnam veteran

ColumnistMarch 11, 2012 

  • Want to help?

    Call Joe Medlin, York County Veterans Service Officer, at 803-984-4795.

    Future veterans events:

    April 14, resume writing workshop, York Technical College computer lab.

    April 19, job fair, Fort Mill National Guard armory.

    For more information on these events, contact the York County Veterans Affairs Office at 803-909-7525.

— The ground stayed wet, even on dry days, in the front yard of Carl Burris's mobile home. Days turned to weeks, the ground got wetter.

Burris at age 62, retired from textiles for three years because the jobs died and he is disabled, too, dug at the wetness anyway and knew it was trouble.

Burris had his veterans benefits check, and a little other money, and barely scraped by as the water spread.

The Veterans Administration paid for the medicine that treats the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he has dealt with for 40 years since all the killing he had to do in Vietnam.

Looking at the water in the lawn, Burris would think about walking from Clover to Rock Hill to enlist in the Army at age 19, straight off a sharecropper's farm, with the hope that joining instead of getting drafted would mean he wouldn't have to go to Vietnam.

"I was in Vietnam inside of four months," said Burris. "Combat."

In three years of active duty Burris rose to the rank of sergeant. He earned his stripes in death and blood.

Still, Burris, who had to leave school in the seventh grade to work, who after the Army through hard work got a General Equivalency Diploma and even took some college classes, tightened his slim belt even further. He punched a hole in it with a knife for his skinny waist, now even smaller.

Then the water bill arrived. The bill should have been delivered by backhoe - "$600 and something dollars, and I sure didn't have it," Burris said.

Leaky pipes cost big money. Burris has pride, and toughness. Money he does not have.

Since January, Burris has lugged jugs, and jars, and buckets, to bring water to his home, where he lives alone. He could flush the toilet and wash dishes and brush his teeth and take a combat-style bath with a sponge.

"I grew up carrying water from a well, or a spring, or a creek; no big deal to carry water," Burris said.

Then he went to the York County Veterans Affairs Office in York. While handling other paperwork he casually mentioned he hadn't had water since just after the New Year.

The lady in the office immediately called Joe Medlin, York County Veterans Service Officer since December. Medlin is an Iraq combat veteran, a Bronze Star winner, and the command sergeant major for the area's National Guard battalion.

Medlin did not dictate a memo or fill out a form. Medlin drove to Burris's home and found the dry house, the bent man who is 62 but has lived such a life of work that he looks far older.

"No way was this veteran of combat who did what he did for his country staying this way," said Medlin.

Medlin and Marion Ramsey from Sharon, a staff sergeant in the National Guard who in the past decade has served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, dug up the dirt in the front yard, with shovels and picks, to unearth the water lines to find the leaks.

Emily Darby, who used to work with Medlin at the York County Public Defender Office, offered the help of her family business, James Darby Well Drilling. A crew came Thursday afternoon and fixed the leaks, for free.

"We just wanted to help," Darby said.

But Burris still has that bill. Skidmore & Associates private investigations gave $100, and non-profit PATH from York gave another $100.

"We will get the rest of the money somewhere," said Medlin, who then started calling more people he knows.

Burris, by Friday afternoon, had a fixed water pipe coming from his house. He also had no water in the pipe. He had his jugs of water, and he smiled a smile from somewhere, outside a mobile home that has not had running water in two months.

"Medlin and Ramsey, those guys come to my house and they help me," said Burris. "Darby comes out here and fix my pipes. I am blessed with friends in my life."

Then he walked inside his mobile home, long paid for, like all his bills of a lifetime, paid for, and he washed his hands with water poured from an old iced tea jug.

AndrewDys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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