Andrew Dys

‘Still have battles to fight’: Black Rock Hill veterans on Charlottesville violence

Grady Meeks
Grady Meeks Contributed photo

After the violence of white supremacists that killed a woman and left others injured in Charlottesville, Va., few are more outraged than black men and women who wore the uniform of America.

“It is just awful, this racial hatred that still exists in some people,” said John Thorne, a Vietnam War Marine Corps combat veteran. Thorne is commander of Rock Hill’s VFW Post 3746 that was formed after World War II, when service organizations were segregated.

“I have watched it all and read every word, and what I see still out there in America is not the America of veterans. We are all people. Our skin is different sometimes, but our blood all runs red.”

Thorne said that some refuse to believe that all Americans are equal.

“I fought for this country to prove them wrong,” Thorne said. “I am still fighting for my country so that everyone knows we are all in this together.”

Post 3746 has a Silver Star winner and a Bronze Star winner and five members who have Purple Hearts from combat wounds.

Quartermaster Grady Meeks, wounded in Vietnam while in the Air Force combat security forces, is one of those who returned home.

“There are people in this country I love and fought for who still for some reason believe that I am not as good as they are because of skin,” Meeks said. “At the time of Vietnam, we were fighting civil rights at home, the Ku Klux Klan and the Vietcong.”

“What happened this weekend shows we still have battles to fight,” Meeks said. “We helped make this country the greatest country on earth.”

For black veterans, their patriotism is without qualification. America is the greatest - period.

Both Thorne and Meeks are officers with South Carolina’s statewide VFW. They said black and white veterans are shocked, saddened and upset by the racial hatred that boiled over into violence and death.

Isaac “Ike” Miller, an Army combat medic veteran from Rock Hill and statewide American Legion officer who has been commander in York County as well, said some Americans continue “to live in the past, where color divides us.”

Miller, a district commander with the South Carolina American Legion and past commander of the Fort Mill post, agreed that veterans who have served alongside each other – and needed each other to stay alive – have no patience for bigotry.

“Some people do keep hatred alive, they do point at people like me and hate me because of my skin. It does come up in life,” Miller said. “It’s like the past can’t be taken from them. They live there. But we all have to move forward – together.”