Community knows the price of patriotism

Rural western Chester County, out in the country by anybody's definition, close enough to York County to plow a field into it, is where patriotism lives.

And it is where one of the patriotic was born and raised before leaving for Greenville and then the Army, then dying in the dust of Iraq.

It is a place called "Thompson Quarters" and "Redlands" and "Robinson" by those who are from there and almost nobody else. It was called "Cabal" before that back to the 1800s. It is where Zandra Worthy-Walker, a 28-year-old Army specialist, the first area woman and the first area black soldier to die in the wars that seem like they will never end, has her roots.

Those roots, the black people's roots of courage, loyalty and love of country that at times did not love them back, are America.

Where black men such as Zandra's great-great-uncle named Claud Thompson left farms and the segregated South during World War I and willingly served their country in Europe. Black men such as Eddie Cole and Bertis Roberts, Andrew Hardrick and Waddell Roberts, and brothers Hugh and Henry Bennett, drove mule teams, ferried ammunition and dug trenches and graves because the white Americans were fighting the white Germans.

"I was able to hear it from those men when they came back, from their mouths, when I was just a little boy," said Billy Powell, 75, a deacon for 51 years at Mount Hopewell Baptist Church, where Zandra's family are members. "People believed then and now in service to country. They seemed to give a higher priority to country than even to serving themselves. Principles of country first, even if the country isn't doing everything right. Work ethic, struggling for education and better lives, that was life in this neighborhood, and still is."

That America first came from people such as Clough Thompson, Zandra's grandfather, who bought land from the Thompson landowner by saving from crop yields every year.

The men from Thompson Quarter went to World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Men such as Billy Powell and his brother, Richard. Lester Giles and Fedi Giles. Fedi Giles came back from war and worked the farm at Friendship Junior College for blacks in Rock Hill to pay for his education, then later served as the college's dean.

Many of those men taught in public schools and at church Sunday schools and pastored at churches, reinforcing that God and country was who they were.

Later, women from the area joined the military. Zandra's sister, Phoebe, was one. She served in the Persian Gulf War. She is now a major.

Zandra lived in this spot by the Broad River until the end of elementary school, when her parents, Dwight and Connie, moved to Greenville. The textile plant in nearby Lockhart on the Union County side of the river had closed, Billy Powell said, taking with it the good jobs that Thompson Quarters people worked at for so long.

But the dirt and gravel roads and the blacktop roads remain. The Mount Hopewell church, just around the bend of S.C. 49 in York County, that has been there since 1880 remains. And the family and people who have lived together so long -- if they aren't family they consider themselves such anyway -- remain.

That family opened up its front door Wednesday in the face of a 68-year-old woman named Betty Jean Burris -- maiden name Thompson, just like her cousin Frances Thompson Jeter, Zandra's grandmother, who lives around the corner on 174 acres that her father had purchased for his family of 16 children.

Burris has known Frances, Connie, Zandra and Zandra's twin sister, Yolanda -- who joined the military with her sister -- and another sister Charlita, all her life. Yolanda is still in the Army. She was serving in Kuwait when her sister died last week.

"The girls were always at church," Burris said. "In the plays, Sunday school. They still came back to church and to see their grandmother, when they were in Greenville and in the Army."

Concern spread over the Thompson Quarters when Zandra and her sister, the pigtails and Sunday school dresses gone and replaced by rifles, were deployed overseas, Burris said.

"I just cried. Everybody did. We were worried," she said.

Then last week, Wednesday, Zandra was killed by enemy fire in Taji, Iraq. Word got around quickly in this place because Burris and another lady care for elderly neighbors whom they know. They do it because they've known these people all their lives. Prayers started at the church.

"We are family out here; we honor each other as family," Burris said.

And so prayers will come again, on Friday at 2 o'clock in what will certainly be a brutally hot afternoon, at Zandra's funeral at Mount Hopewell church. Then, there will be a burial in the church cemetery in the rear, which sits in front of a field and forest beyond.

The last grave before the field's wildflowers and tall grass is the grave of Katrina Worthy, who died in June from a brain tumor at age 22. There are yellow and red flowers on the grave, a grave so new the headstone isn't even up yet.

She was Zandra's baby sister.

Zandra will be buried next to her.

This will happen in the place called Thompson Quarters, where America's patriotic have come from before, and still do. They go when country calls, they ask not why. And they come back to live and worship at this church founded by a man named F. Frank Giles, Billy Powell's great-great-grandfather.

Or if those patriots die serving this great country of ours, a country where all men are supposed to be created equal and these people show it is so true, they are buried, here, too.