NEWPORT -- The old man said he had a sign, and I needed to see it.
"How do I find you?" I asked.
"Look for the sign," Crawford Rodgers said. "You can see, can't you?"
I can see, so I hooked a left off S.C. 274 westbound in Newport onto Green Valley Road, and there was the sign in Rodgers' front yard. It had red letters on a white background, 4 feet wide by at least as much deep pounded into the ground on 2-by-4 posts.
"Welcome Home Troops From Iraq & Afghanistan," the sign reads.
Rodgers has no son or grandson in the local National Guard unit from the armory only a couple of miles away, no family at all. But he felt compelled to buy the sign and show the world.
"Thought I had to honor 'em," Rodgers said. "Felt I owed them."
Rodgers felt he owed the men and women of the 178th Combat Engineers in the Rock Hill armory building because for 25 years -- until "I got too old," in his words -- he was a Guardsman there.
"Headquarters, Second Battalion, 263rd Armor, when that was the local unit," Rodgers said. "I was a sergeant. Ran supply for the battalion. Ran the NCO Club, too. That's the non-commissioned officers club. Where you could get a beer in the days when beer was allowed there. You could smoke there, too. No more for either of those over there now, no."
He lit up -- a Seneca, king size.
"Doctors told me to quit, but I smoked all my life, started on rabbit tobacco from the fields," he said. "Rabbit tobacco grew wild. Didn't cost nothin.' Anyway, figured I lived this long smoking."
Rodgers worked 19 years in the textile mill at the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. -- "The Bleachery, son, the big one in Rock Hill" -- and then the Celanese mill another 21 years. His wife of 55 years, Betty, died last year. He's a longtime member of the American Legion and the VFW, where he's been known to stop on Wednesday nights, "because I like to dance with the pretty women."
Crawford Rodgers is 76 years old.
He lives on a fixed income from Social Security and his pension from the mills.
"Sign cost 98 dollars," Rodgers said. "Including tax."
Rodgers does not have $100 bills lying around on the kitchen table. Men his age will always have less money tomorrow than they had today. But he found $98 for that sign. He knew what he wanted so he drove over to Celanese Road and walked through the doors at Sign Techniques. He told the owner what he wanted and got his sign. He took the sign home and a friend helped put it up.
The owner of that sign shop is a guy named Derrick Moyle. He mainly makes signs for businesses, but recalled all those signs made by wonderful schoolkids and families and others welcoming the soldiers back last month that adorned the fence on Celanese Road near the armory.
"The man just came in and said what he wanted, that he wanted to honor the soldiers," Moyle told me. "Of course I remember him. Hard to forget a guy like that."
When Rodgers read in the paper that the last group of National Guard soldiers was coming home, he even felt compelled to be there at the homecoming May 14. Rodgers got there early, saw people giving out large American flags to hold as the buses pulled in. Rodgers grabbed a flag on a pole and stood there as proud as anybody.
And then afterward he asked if he could keep the flag.
"As long as you take care of it proper," was the response.
"I told that guy, 'I've had an American flag flying day and night in my front yard, lit up by a light at night, for years,'" Rodgers recalled. "I know about how to take care of a flag."
Rodgers puts out the new flag every day. On his sign he put four more American flags. The sign isn't out on the main highway a few hundred yards away because Rodgers was "afraid it might get stolen." But many people have stopped who have seen it. They thank him, he said.
"I tell people, don't thank me, thank a soldier," Rodgers said. "If I wasn't too old, I would have gone right there with 'em."