Command Sgt. Major James R. Love – who served his country for more than 30 years, fought in two wars, and was among the first black soldiers to join the U.S. Army Special Forces – died Sunday. The Rock Hill native was 86.
But it is the life that “Sarge” lived that matters.
Love attained, in the Airborne and Special Forces, the elite rank of command sergeant major. That means he was in charge of hundreds of men, both in peacetime and during the Vietnam War. When John Wayne was making the 1968 movie “The Green Berets,” Love was the enlisted man in charge of many of the actual Green Berets – the nickname given to those in the Special Forces because of their distinctive headgear.
He was a Green Beret himself in Vietnam, undertaking the most daunting tasks of that war.
The plenty of books have been written and movies made about Special Forces commandos coming back from wars and raids in exotic places, carrying briefcases handcuffed to their wrists.
Love actually did that.
“This is a man who I went to for advice myself,” said Command Sgt. Major Joe Medlin of the Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers from Rock Hill. “I learned from him, because he had done it so many times, for so long – and done it so well.
“He was so humble, though. He was, during his lifetime, a living legend. He did it all.”
He was so respected in the Army that when President John F. Kennedy visited the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1961, it was Love who was the enlisted man in charge of the troops during the visit. Kennedy’s team even gave Love a plaque to commemorate that visit, which his family treasures to this day.
“My husband was a military man, through and through,” said Helen Love, his wife of 45 years.
Love loved his country. He was a soldier who did not talk about civil rights and integration, he lived it.
He started out in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion – the famous “Triple Nickles” – the Army’s all-black airborne unit during World War II. When the Special Forces were created, Love was chosen to be a paratrooper when that job was reserved for an elite few. He spent years in combat in Vietnam, responsible for the lives of thousands of enlisted men in Special Forces, the 82nd Airborne Division and more.
Love was awarded the Bronze Star and 16 other awards for his service from Germany through Vietnam. He served Special Forces missions in countries all over the world – mission so secret his family still does not know today just what he was doing.
Love did it all without hesitation.
“He loved America,” said his son, James A. Dunlap, who served in the Navy himself. “Some people, they say it. He lived it.”
After retirement, Love came home and ran Love Electric on Rock Hill’s West Main Street for years. He also was an instructor at the ROTC unit at S.C. State University in Orangeburg.
But “Sarge” was not just some guy in a veteran’s ball cap. Around the VFW and American Legion posts in Rock Hill, he was known as one of the greats – a soldier’s soldier who had lived and fought during the hardest times.
“The man was a great leader,” said Kenneth Perkins, another retired command sergeant major. “A great man.”