CLOVER -- At least three times in the past couple of years, readers called me to tell me about an older guy on Sumter Street in Clover named Lanford Brackett.
"Gotta check him out," I was told. "Goes down into the country and collects pecans every year. Nicest guy anybody ever met."
I would write down the name and do what I do best: Lose the idea among the mess that is my desk.
Then, a retired Army colonel named John Gossett from Clover called recently about a Veterans Day ceremony at his church. "The first one in, under raised sabers to honor the veterans, was Lanford Brackett," Gossett said.
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So, I finally called Brackett and the 88-year-old man tells me: "Come on."
When I get there, I find out that Lanford Brackett is more than a veteran, more than a retired insurance agent who worked in the mills and collects pecans.
Brackett is a real-life, in-the- flesh war hero.
There is a picture of four Marines that graced magazine covers the world over during and after World War II. The second one from the left is Lanford Brackett.
"I saw 'The War' on TV not long ago, and they flashed that picture and I said, 'That's me.'"
But until now, he's never told anybody all the details of how an orphaned grocery clerk from Bowling Green, that little spot north of Clover right on the North Carolina state line, was a sergeant in the Marine Corps on Bouganville Island who saved so many of his fellow Marines from getting killed.
Brackett's father died before he was born. His mother died when he was 15. He went to Gastonia, N.C., up U.S. 321 a few miles, to stay with his older sister. He worked as a grocery clerk while going to high school.
He joined the Marines in October 1940, 14 months before Pearl Harbor. By 1942, he was a sergeant with 24 men under him. He contracted the beginnings of elephantiasis, a disease that causes a pronounced enlargement of body parts, but quick treatment saved him from dying. The remnants of that disease are with him still.
On Guadalcanal, one of the Pacific Islands where fighting was brutal, 13 of his 24 men were killed.
"I wound up under a Jeep because the explosions blew me under there," Brackett said.
After he was treated for a concussion, Brackett and his unit were sent to Bouganville. Before the boat landed, it was hit, and he and all the men had to swim for shore. Another concussion.
"The fighting there, it was hell," Brackett said. "A lot of night fighting. I can remember, the (Japanese) called us names in the dark. Curse words. They cursed out FDR. They loved baseball, so they cursed Babe Ruth about his womanizing and drinking. Anything they could do to try and get us to yell back and give away our positions."
On Nov. 7, 1943, late at night, Brackett and a machine gunner were stationed under a banyan tree. Brackett counted Japanese walking by until one stopped and started talking in accented English, asking, 'Who is standing at this post?'
"I took my left hand and put the stock of my rifle between my knees, put my right finger on the trigger, and ... the muzzle up under his chin," Brackett said. "The gun went off, and part of his head went with it."
The butt of the rifle hit Brackett in the face, opening up a gash under his nose that made a scar that is still visible.
The blood flowed, but then, Brackett said, "Hell did break loose."
In close combat, Brackett ended up killing four of those Japanese soldiers before that column could attack the Marines at a field hospital nearby. He drove off the other Japanese.
When the whole battle was done, only one American was wounded.
Because of an orphan from Bowling Green.
Brackett received a Silver Star for his heroism, one of the top honors any military man can get. Admiral Halsey, in charge of the Navy, sent him a signed citation.
After hospital stays in California and Idaho, Brackett was sent back to the Pacific. The war finally ended.
On Oct. 11, 1945, exactly five years to the day after he enlisted, Brackett set foot in Clover again.
He went right to the girl, Margaret, whom he had met in church shortly before he enlisted. The lady who had worked and waited for her man and sent fudge overseas that took a year to find the Marine named Brackett. By January 1946, they were married.
They still are, 62 years later.
"Some man, my husband," said Mrs. Lanford Brackett of her husband.
Oh, how she is right.