After he left the military, Jimmie Leach made sure veterans received the recognition and support they deserved. Now, a local veterans organization is renaming itself to honor the man who devoted much of his life to its causes.
The local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which works to serve wounded veterans, has renamed itself the Colonel Jimmie Leach Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
"His spirit for advocacy symbolizes what we do for veterans," said Cmdr. Glenn Blackburn.
Leach, who died in 2009, was a five-time purple heart recipient and former S.C. Adjutant General. He served in a tank company under Gen. George Patton during World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest military decoration, for his service during the war.
He retired from the Army after tours in Korea and Vietnam, settling in Beaufort. Leach became known locally for his campaign to expand the Beaufort National Cemetery, where he now is buried. Before his death, he was inducted into the French National Order of the Legion of Honor for his service to liberate France in World War II.
"There's no one like Jimmie Leach," Blackburn said. "When he spoke, everybody listened. He always had a good message."
He was a charter member of the Purple Heart chapter, which was founded in 1996, Blackburn said. About 70 members are in the chapter, which covers the Beaufort County area.
The chapter's mission is to help wounded soldiers. It has raised $50,000 with the local Lions Club over three years to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project. It's also donated to the Veteran's Victory House nursing home in Walterboro and supported JROTC programs in local high schools. The chapter also conducts ceremonies honoring veterans and Purple Heart recipients on Purple Heart Recognition Day, Memorial Day and other holidays throughout the year.
Leach relished his time spent with members of the chapter, said his wife, Marion.
"He looked on it as a brotherhood," she said. "This was a tremendous honor. He would have been very proud and very humbled."
The chapter held a redesignation ceremony to honor Leach on Dec. 17 on Parris Island. Marion, son James and granddaughter Belle were among those in attendance. It was the one-year anniversary of Jimmie Leach's death.
"I was very pleased that they had the ceremony because I had been dreading that day," Marion said. "Instead, it gave me something to look forward to."