New book details military heroes in our midst

November 1, 2010 

In September, at the monthly meeting of school superintendents with state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, I met William Pebley.

Pebley, a stately gentleman, shared with superintendents an amazing story of giving. Ex-prisoners of war were encouraged to tell their stories so that South Carolina's school children would know and remember the sacrifices of our state's greatest generation. Pebley, a prisoner of war in 1944 in Germany when he was just 19 years old, led an effort to compile stories of 49 ex prisoners of war into a book.

All the contributors are South Carolinians who served our great country, were captured during World War II or the Korean War and lived to tell about their experiences.

The privilege of reading these living histories is tremendous. The gift of the stories to our youth is an enduring one.

Pebley shared a touching story of how volunteers assembled the stories and raised funds from business partners to print the stories into a book. Schools received copies of "Heroes ... Survivors: A Book About South Carolinian Ex-Prisoner of War Experiences." Because of the contribution of private-sector volunteers, schoolchildren have the benefit of authentic voices of South Carolina's servicemen and women who served so that future generations could live free.

Rex shares in the book's introductory letter, "Fred Best was a ball turret gunner on a B-24 bomber that was shot down over Austria during World War II. Infantryman Lolace Cordray's unit was surrounded by Rommel's troops in North Africa. Tanker James Eidson Jr. served under Gen. (George) Patton until his tank was hit and destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge. Sammuel Knight was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and went on to survive the infamous Bataan Death March. T. J. Martin's Army unit was overrun by Chinese troops in Korea."

With Election Day upon us, we are reminded of the importance of exercising one of our most precious rights as Americans: the right to vote. Beaufort County's Board of Education has many goals; one is to increase the percentage of young adults who are registered to vote.

Last spring, the Student Advisory Council, comprised of elected leaders of our five high schools who meet regularly with district leaders, hosted a voter registration competition, supported by the League of Women Voters. (Beaufort High School's student government won by registering more than 120 new voters.)

As I listened to discussion by Student Advisory Council leaders recently, I thought of the great privilege we have been given by the leaders of yesteryear, including those whose stories are chronicled in "Heroes ... Survivors." We have the opportunity to be heard, the responsibility to choose, the civic duty to vote.

With these living histories, the youth of South Carolina will forever be able to remember the acute sacrifice of men and women who were imprisoned so that we might live free.

Valerie Truesdale is superintendent of Beaufort County School

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