Scroll of Honor – Frank Pierce Salter

A New Kind of War

Written by: Kelly Durham

It was a new kind of war, one in which men soared above the battle lines in machines that few had ever seen and in which fewer still had ridden.  Heavier-than-air airplanes, which had not existed at all at the turn of the century, were now helping generals see beyond the horizon and were increasingly being used as aerial weapons to deliver death from above.  The United States had been slow to enter the Great War, joining Great Britain and France only in 1917.  It had also been slow to develop its own air power. When Congress declared war that April, the Army’s air power consisted of a small section within the Signal Corps composed of only twenty-six pilots.  Within months of America’s entrance into the war, Congress authorized $640 million, the largest appropriation in its history, for the construction of an air force.  Of course, all of these new  airplanes would need pilots.  That’s where Frank Salter would come in.

Frank Pierce Salter came to Clemson Agricultural College from the tiny crossroads of Trenton in Edgefield County.  Salter was a Chemistry major and was a member of the Dancing Club, Tennis Club, and Chemical Club.  He graduated in 1914.

Salter took a job as chief chemist for Buckeye Cotton Oil Company.  When America entered the war, Salter left his job and enlisted in the Army. By September 1918 he was training to be an Army pilot at Rich Field in Waco, Texas.  In a sign of the times, Salter, though only a private first class in rank, was a cadet pilot learning his new craft in a Curtiss JN-4 biplane.  Salter had already completed ten hours of solo flying when he took off for a training flight on September 12, 1918.  One of his objectives on this flight was to practice spin recovery.  Unfortunately, on this warm and pleasant evening, Salter’s wasn’t the only airplane in the sky over Rich Field.  Cadet Frank Oliver was also in the air, also flying a Curtiss biplane and, like Salter, also practicing spins.

At approximately 6:10 p.m., both cadets put their aircraft into spins, Salter spinning to the left and Oliver to the right—apparently contrary to instructions given him on the ground.  Neither pilot saw the other as the angles of their wings obstructed their vision.  The two airplanes collided in mid-air and plummeted to the ground.  Oliver was killed and Salter seriously injured. He died a short time later.

The board of officers investigating the accident judged it to have been avoidable and noted that Oliver’s spin to the right was “in disobedience to instructions.” But the board stopped short of pinning the blame for the tragedy on Oliver, saying “that it was impossible to determine if disobedience was willful or due to some necessity.”

Salter’s body was returned to Trenton and buried with full honors.  He was survived by his parents, three sisters, and two brothers, one fighting in France, the other a midshipman at Annapolis.

For more information on Frank Pierce Salter see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/frank-pierce-salter/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – Daniel Gardner McCollum

The Global War on Terror

Written by: Kelly Durham

Most current Clemson students hadn’t been born, but those of a certain age will never forget September 11, 2001.  It was one of those days, like December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963, that marked a generation and changed the way we look at our world.  As the twentieth anniversary of that horrible day approaches, it is fitting that we remember Daniel Gardner McCollum, the first Clemson alumnus to fall in the Global War on Terror.

McCollum came to Clemson from Irmo and majored in mechanical engineering.  He joined the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course in 1993 while he was still a student.  According to friends, Dan McCollum dreamed from an early age of learning to fly.  While at Clemson, he joined the Dixie Skydivers and could frequently be found at Oconee County Airport which sits on a plateau across the Seneca River from campus.  Acquaintances, from friends to professors, described him as a nice guy, someone who was easy to get along with.  Following his 1996 graduation and commissioning as a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant, McCollum attended flight school.

By the summer of 2001, Captain McCollum was assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California.  Following the September 11 attacks, McCollum’s squadron was deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the United States’ official name for the War on Terror.  ENDURING FREEDOM included airstrikes targeting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

On January 9, 2002, Captain McCollum was copiloting a resupply flight originating in Jacobabad a small city just above sea level some three hundred miles north of Karachi, Pakistan.  The flight was bound for Shamsi Airfield, a desert runway not quite two hundred miles to the east.  Stretching between Jacobabad and Shamsi was a mountain range rising up more than four thousand feet.  To add to the challenge of this winter night’s flight, Shamsi airfield sits in a barren desert, nestled between two rocky ridges.

As McCollum’s KC-130R aerial refueling tanker approached Shamsi from the west, its crew requested clearance to land on a runway normally used for departing flights.  Air traffic control denied the request in order to reduce aircraft noise over the nearby town.  McCollum’s aircraft had to circle to reposition itself for an approach to the inbound runway.  It was now dark on a no moon night.  The airfield was not equipped with radar or navigational aids and only expeditionary lights were in place to illuminate the runway.

Compounding the relatively primitive facilities at this airfield, just over a hundred miles south of the Afghan border, was the absence of any night vision equipment onboard the airplane.  None of the Marine Corps KC-130s in the theater was equipped with night vision capabilities, flight planning software, or global positioning systems.  As the flight crew attempted to line up their aircraft for its approach, they were flying in combat conditions utilizing their onboard flight instruments.

Due to the airfield’s precarious position between the two ridges, aircraft on approach to Shamsi must maintain an altitude of seven thousand feet for maneuvering and five thousand, six hundred feet from which to commence final landing approach.  Witnesses said McCollum’s plane circled twice in attempting to land.  The aircraft then crashed into the side of a ridge and exploded. McCollum and the six other members of the tanker’s crew were killed in the crash.

Post-crash investigations revealed that the KC-130 hit the ridge at three thousand, eight hundred feet, well below the minimum safe altitude.  Investigators opined that just two hundred more feet of altitude would have enabled the plane to clear the mountain and continue its approach. In response to the tragedy, the Marines began retrofitting KC-130s with night vision landing equipment.

The reputations of the crew members, “all seven of them,” said squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Carl Parker, “were stellar.” “All of our service members have made great sacrifices to take the fight to the enemy a long way from America’s shores.”  Parker’s comments are a reminder that the freedoms and security we take for granted are purchased only by sacrifice, not just by service members, but by their families.

McCollum’s wife, Clemson alumna Jennifer Harkey McCollum, was then six months pregnant.  Their son, Daniel Gardner McCollum, Jr. was born in the summer of 2002.

McCollum’s remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery along with those of his crewmates.  There is also a memorial marker to him at Bush River Memorial Gardens in Columbia.

For additional information about Daniel Gardner McCollum see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/daniel-gardner-dan-mccollum/

For more information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – Stuart Star Abell, Jr.

Engine Failure

Written by: Kelly Durham

Stuart Star Abell, Jr. came to Clemson in 1936 from the Chester County crossroads of Lowrys.  A member of the Class of 1940, Abell attended Clemson for two years and majored in agriculture.

By the summer of 1943, with the world at war, Abell had entered military service, volunteered for the Army Air Force, and earned both his pilot’s wings and a second lieutenant’s commission.

In this era of a small, all-volunteer military, it is challenging to imagine the size and scale of the United States military that in mid-1943 was still growing at a rapid pace.  New Army and Marine divisions were being activated, manned, and trained in preparation for the invasions still to come in both the Pacific and European theaters.  Factories and shipyards were turning out tanks, ships, and aircraft at a previously unimagined rate.  Training commands were tasked with preparing the young warriors who would ride these conveyances into battle.

Abell in that summer of 1943 was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 2nd Air Force based at Gowen Field near Boise, Idaho.  Army Air Force training was gradually shifting.  The activation of new bombardment groups and squadrons was slowing down, as more groups were being deployed to combat theaters.  The need now was to train replacement pilots and aircrew members to replace combat losses.  Airmen trained at Gowen would be shipped into existing bombardment groups in Europe or the Pacific after they completed their training on the types of aircraft they would crew in combat operations.

On the afternoon of August 16, 1943, Abell was assigned as the copilot on a B-24E Liberator heavy bomber piloted by Second Lieutenant John W. Erb.  The afternoon mission was a routine gunnery training flight.  Five members of the ten-man crew of the big bomber manned fifty-caliber machine guns with which to protect their ship from enemy fighters.  This would be another opportunity for these aerial gunners to hone their skills.

The B-24 took off from runway 28E at 1639 hours in what at first appeared to be a normal takeoff.  The landing gear was retracted and at about 600 feet above the ground the airplane began to slowly bank to the left.  The bank quickly developed into a tight spiral as the airplane lost altitude and struck the ground nose-first.

The post-crash investigation revealed the pilot or copilot may have let the RPM on engines “#1 and #2 get too low when decreasing power after takeoff. As a result, it is possible that engine failure was encountered or that the pilot became confused and feathered #2 engine.  In any event, the loss of power in #1 and #2 engines appears to have caused the ship to crash.”  All ten aboard the aircraft were killed.

Abell was survived by his parents, a sister, and a brother.  His remains were returned to Lowrys where he was buried at Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

For more information on Second Lieutenant Stuart Star Abell, Jr. see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/stuart-star-abell-jr/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – James Tinsley Whitney

Recapturing Guam

Written by: Kelly Durham

Perhaps James Tinsley Whitney knew about Guam from his classes at Union High School.  Maybe he had read about the island’s seaplane base serving the famous clippers of Pan-American World Airways. Even if he had, it is unlikely that Whitney would have linked his future to that far away island in the western Pacific.

Whitney, a member of Clemson’s Class of 1939, was an industrial education major from Union.  He played football as a freshman and was a member of the Block C Club.  He served on the YMCA Council, was an officer in the Union-Clemson Club, and marched with the Sophomore, Junior and Senior Platoons as one of the best-drilled cadets in his class.

Following graduation, Whitney took a job as the shop instructor at Walterboro High School, where he soon noticed the school’s music teacher, Dorothy Mae Graham.  Whitney, who had completed ROTC training at Clemson, entered the Army on March 5, 1942.  In June, he and Dorothy were married.

Lieutenant Whitney was assigned to the 307th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Infantry Division.  The division trained in the States for nearly two years before shipping out for Hawaii in February 1944.  In Hawaii, the division trained for amphibious operations and jungle warfare until early July when it departed for Guam.

Guam, the largest of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, had been a territory of the United States since its brief war with Spain in 1898.  The Navy exercised administrative control over the island, which included a refueling station for merchant and warships traveling to and from the Philippines, a Navy yard, and a Marine Corps barracks.  In addition, a trans-Pacific cable communications station was established on Guam along with Pan-American’s seaplane facility.  On December 10, 1941, following the daring attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces stormed ashore and captured Guam, making it part of Japan’s Pacific defense perimeter.  Now, the United States intended to take it back.

American military leaders recognized the value of Guam, as well as nearby Tinian and Saipan, as a location for airbases from which the Army Air Force’s new B-29 Superfortress bomber could fly missions against the Japanese home islands.  The invasion of Guam and its recapture would allow devastating air raids to be conducted against Japan’s major war industries and cities.

The 77th Infantry Division assaulted Guam on July 21.  Landing craft carried the soldiers only as far as the reef. From there, the troops had to wade ashore through the surf.  Despite this soggy beginning, Whitney’s division secured the beachhead and on July 28th linked up with the 3rd Marine Division.  By July 30, the Japanese airfield at Orote and the harbor at Apra had been captured.

On August 3, while battling Japanese defenders at Mount Barrigada, Whitney was killed in action.  He was awarded the Bronze Star for gallantry and the Purple Heart.  In January 1945, the airfields that Whitney had helped capture were expanded to accommodate B-29s and their strategic bombing campaign against Japan.

First Lieutenant James Tinsley Whitney was survived by his wife then serving as executive secretary of the Colleton chapter of the American Red Cross, his parents, a brother serving in the Merchant Marine, and a sister.  Whitney is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

For more information about First Lieutenant James Tinsley Whitney see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/james-tinsley-whitney/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

 

Scroll of Honor – Dock Graham Thomas

Ball Turret Gunner

Written by: Kelly Durham

Dock Graham Thomas, Jr. attended Clemson as a freshman during the 1940-1941 academic year.  An English major from Greenville, Thomas was a member of the Class of 1944.  We know little about his Clemson career.

After leaving campus, Thomas volunteered for the Army Air Force and was trained as an aerial gunner.  By mid-1943, he was part of the 8th Air Force and on the frontlines of America’s fight against Germany in the skies over Europe.

Thomas was assigned to the 432nd Bomb Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group (Heavy), flying B-17 Flying Fortresses from Thurleigh, about sixty-five miles north-northwest of London.  The 306th was one of the first bomb groups to deploy to England, arriving in the autumn of 1942 and flying its first combat mission in October.  In January 1943, the 306th participated in the first penetration into Germany by 8th Air Force heavy bombers.  This was a period of evolving doctrine for the 8th Air Force. It was committed to the concept of massed, self-defending formations of heavily armed bombers flying daylight missions in order to deliver bomb loads with precision against specific military targets.

Staff Sergeant Thomas was the ball turret gunner on a B-17 piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Easley Courson.  Thomas’s turret hung from the belly of the aircraft and was often the domain of the smallest man on the crew due to the tight confines of the forty-two inch diameter turret.  The gunner lay with his eye to his gunsight and his hands on the turret’s hydraulic controls.  His job was to protect the bomber from enemy aircraft attacking from below.

On July 26, 1943, Courson’s crew took off from Thurleigh for a bombardment mission to strike the Limmer synthetic rubber factory at Hanover, Germany.  One hundred nineteen B-17s took off, but by the time they reached the target, more than twenty of the bombers had turned back due to mechanical issues or combat damage.  Ninety-six bombers dropped their bombs on the target beginning at about noon.  Shortly after releasing its bomb load, Thomas’s aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire, damaging the tail. Courson turned the aircraft west, back toward England.

Over the Netherlands, Thomas’s injured ship was attacked by a German fighter, a Messerschmidt Bf-109 piloted by Luftwaffe Major Anton Mader.  Mader’s attack finished off the aircraft, setting it on fire.  The crew, even Thomas from his constricted turret, was able to bail out and witnesses counted ten parachutes.  Seven of the crew landed safely and were taken prisoner by the Germans, but Thomas and two other crew members died, perhaps from wounds suffered during the anti-aircraft or fighter attacks.

Staff Sergeant Thomas was awarded the Purple Heart.  He is buried in the American Military Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands.

For more information about Dock Graham Thomas, Jr. see:
https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/dock-graham-thomas-jr/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – Dibble Manly Rickenbaker

First to Fall

Written by: Kelly Durhan

Dibble Manly Rickenbaker of Summerton followed his older brother to Clemson in the fall of 1940.  Tourie was a year ahead of the younger Rickenbaker and would graduate in 1943. Dibble would major in agriculture but would remain at Clemson for only his freshman year. By 1943, Sergeant Dibble Rickenbaker was all the way on the other side of the United States, training at Lemoore Army Airfield in California.

World War II was the first conflict in which control of the air determined ultimate victory.  As such, the United States military committed unprecedented resources to the training of pilots, navigators, bombardiers, aerial gunners, and other airmen.  Army and Navy airfields sprang up all over the country, especially in areas with good year-round flying weather.  Lemoore, about eighty miles north-northwest of Bakersfield, was home to an Army Air Forces grass field used for phase two of the Army’s flight training program.

Army aviation training was divided into phases.  Primary training taught aviation cadets the fundamentals of flight with flying time in simple, low-powered airplanes. In phase two, pilots advanced to more complicated aircraft with larger, more powerful engines, adjustable flaps, radios, and navigation equipment. Pilot trainees at the 528th School Squadron at Lemoore flew the Vultee BT-13, a two-seat aircraft with a 450 horsepower engine and a two-position propeller.  Unlike the primary training aircraft, the BT-13 was capable of high speeds of up to 180 miles per hour.  The higher-powered, more complex aircraft prepared flyers for the front-line combat aircraft they would master in the later phases of training.

On July 9, 1943, Sergeant Rickenbaker boarded a BT-13 for a routine proficiency flight with pilot Second Lieutenant Ralph R. Ellis at the controls.  The aircraft was probably flying in a formation with other BT-13s because witnesses stated that the plane was flying straight and going “fairly slow” when it stalled and fell into a spin.  Ellis was unable to recover from the spin and the airplane made “9 or 10 more turns before crashing into the ground.”  Both Ellis and Rickenbaker were killed.

Dibble Rickenbaker was survived by his parents and his older brother, Tourie.  He was Summerton’s first casualty of the war. Sadly, he would not be the last.  Tourie would be killed in action in February 1945 while fighting in Germany.

For more information about Sergeant Dibble Manly Rickenbaker see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/dibble-manly-rickenbaker/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – James Henry Pressley, Jr.

A Time of Transition

Written by: Kelly Durham

The end of World War II was a time of transition on the Clemson College campus. The fall semester of 1945 brought a 40 percent increase in the student body as many young men returned from war armed with the educational benefits of the GI Bill.  The mix of returning veterans and traditional students caused college administrators to reconsider the school’s requirements for participation in military training: veterans were exempted.  The war years had interrupted the traditional flow of students to Clemson and fifty-six percent of the students on campus during the spring semester were freshmen, members of the Class of 1949.  One of these was James Henry Pressley, Jr. from Americus, Georgia.

Pressley spent two years on campus before leaving Clemson and joining the Navy.  Like the rest of the country, the Navy was also transitioning from war to peace and, like Clemson, it was involved in a significant restructuring.  The National Security Act of 1947 merged the Department of War and the Department of the Navy into what became the Department of Defense.  The new law also created a separate Air Force, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.  Unification of the national military establishment was deemed critical to help the United States face emerging threats as the Cold War continued to escalate.

Cold War tensions were heightened over the fate of eastern European countries now firmly under the control of the Soviet Union.  The United States had helped rebuild western Europe—including former foes Germany and Italy—and continued to promote collective defense of the continent through the 1949 establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO.  France was one of the key participants in NATO.

By June 1954, Pressley had attained the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and was serving as a flight instructor at the Navy’s aviation training command at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.  Pressley conducted advanced flight training in the single-engine SNJ-4 aircraft manufactured by North American Aviation.

On June 29, 1945, Pressley was instructing a French aviation cadet in the SNJ-4.  Approximately one-quarter mile from Kings Field, Florida, the aircraft went out of control and crashed.  Pressley was killed instantly.  The French cadet was seriously injured and died a short time later.

Pressley was survived by his wife, Margaret, his parents, and sister. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. For more information about James Henry Pressley, Jr. see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/james-henry-pressley-jr/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

 

Keeping the Tradition Alive

During this year’s Clemson Corps Senior Recognition Dinner, retired Brigadier General Hap Carr recognized three outstanding individuals for their efforts in promoting the awareness and education of Clemson’s long and rich military heritage and legacy.

The individuals were selected based on their efforts, outstanding leadership, dedication, and contributions to promoting, advancing and educating Clemson’s long and rich military history. Each recipient will receive a $1,000 check and a military challenge coin depicting the award. Their names will also be placed on a plaque that resides in the ROTC Departments and the Student Veterans Center.

From the Army ROTC department, Cadet. P. J. Campbell from Asheville, N.C., was recognized and awarded with the Keeping Traditions Alive award. Campbell has served as Commander of
Scabbard and Blade where he led efforts in five community service projects as well as provided education on Clemson Military Heritage to Clemson leadership including deans, the provost, and President Clements.  He is also a member of Pershing Rifles, in which he has participated in over forty hours of events. He has also served as the Cadet Recruiting Officer. Campbell will be attending The Army Transportation Basic Officer Leadership Course in June.

From the Air Force ROTC department, Cadet John Brandenburg from Charleston, S.C., was recognized.  Brandenburg has served as Director of Operations for the Arnold Air Society, coordinating service events. He has served as the third President of the Student Military Council.  He is currently the Executive Officer for Scabbard and Blade and serves as a Senator-at-large in the Clemson Undergraduate Student Senate. Cadet Brandenburg is headed for the New US Space Force, the Commander of which is General John Raymond, a Clemson AF ROTC alumnus. While he is waiting for results of the US Space Force Board, he will be serving an internship at the Pentagon this summer.

Veteran Tianna Jones from Wasilla, Alaska, was the third awardee.  She was a US Air Force Senior Airman, serving as a Broadcast Journalist at Dyess AF Base, Texas, and Kaiserslautern Germany. Jones is a senior at Clemson, majoring in accounting. She has served as an executive member of the Student Veterans Association as well as Treasurer. As a Student Assistant for Military and Veteran Engagement, she has demonstrated a commitment to educating the Clemson community in developing the Clemson Veteran Living Library where Clemson student veterans, alumni and family members can share their unique stories and experiences.  Jones is also a mentor to new student veterans as they navigate their transition into civilian life and the world of Clemson education. She has also hosted “Green Zone” training, which has allowed her to share her military and Clemson experience with students, some of which had never interacted with the military.

The “Keeping the Tradition Alive” Award was established in 2017 under the Clemson Corps umbrella of ROTC awards and scholarships. Together, these awards and scholarships have provided over $2 million in support to Clemson cadets and veterans throughout the years. This particular award was created to recognize cadets and veterans from each ROTC department for their contributions to the tenets of the Clemson Corps’ mission and motto of “Keeping the Tradition Alive.” The Student Military Council established the nomination process and then the award recipients are selected by the Award Committee and administered by the Financial Aid office

Scroll of Honor – Philip Aaron Porter

A Special Memorial Day

Written by: Kelly Durham

Next Monday is Memorial Day, a day on which we honor those who died while serving our country in its armed forces.  This year, Memorial Day weekend on the Clemson campus will include a special ceremony at the Scroll of Honor Memorial as we add Philip Aaron Porter to the names engraved around the Memorial’s barrow.  The service, to which the public is invited, will begin at 4 p.m. this Sunday.

Porter’s story is unusual in several aspects:  his passing is the most recent among all the heroes listed on Clemson’s Scroll of Honor; his military service predated his enrollment at and graduation from Clemson; and his sacrifice was not the result of a sudden catastrophe on the field of battle, but rather the consequence  of an insidious affliction incurred while serving in a Third World combat zone.

Porter was born in Easley and grew up in Pickens.  Following high school, he enlisted in the Army in August 1991.  After completing basic training at Fort Jackson, Porter trained to become a radio operator.  He also earned his parachutist jump wings.  With this training behind him, Porter was assigned to the elite 75th Ranger Regiment.

Porter and comrades in Somalia.

In December 1992, President George H. W. Bush ordered the US military to join United Nations Operation Restore Hope to stabilize order in Somalia.  That country had been racked by famine and civil war and was being ruled by competing warlords.  When President Bill Clinton took office the following month, he maintained the American commitment.

In May 1993, the parties involved in the civil war agreed to a disarmament conference proposed by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who had declared himself Somalia’s president.  But on June 5, UN forces were ambushed in Aidid-controlled Mogadishu and twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed.  The next day, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 837 calling for the arrest and trial of those responsible for the ambush.  Despite attacks on his stronghold by UN troops and US warplanes, Aidid remained defiant.

Following two more ambushes targeting American troops, President Clinton authorized the deployment of Task Force Ranger, consisting of four hundred Army Rangers and Delta Force operators.  Specialist Porter served with Task Force Ranger from August to October 1993 during what came to be known as the Battle of Mogadishu.  The fighting, in what was considered the most difficult close combat US troops had participated in since the Vietnam War, resulted in the apprehension of key Aidid allies but also the deaths of eighteen US, one Malaysian, and one Pakistani soldier.

During the course of the battle, Porter, on October 3 and 4, was engaged in the fighting.  According to the citation for his Joint Services Commendation Medal,

Porter helped his element fight through two ambushes and a roadblock, then met another Task Force Ranger element coming back from the objective with casualties… He quickly helped transfer them into the 5-ton he was traveling in, secured the area… all while under sporadic enemy fire.

Yet Porter’s heroic actions exacted a price.  During his active duty, Porter suffered a back injury that manifested as a protruding disc.  This injury was diagnosed by the Army prior to Porter’s honorable discharge from the service in May 1995.  Medications used to treat these issues brought on further health problems.

Despite these issues, Porter enrolled at Clemson in 1997, pursuing a degree in horticulture with a minor in urban forestry.  While attending Clemson, Porter worked to help restore the Schoenike Arboretum at the SC Botanical Garden.  He later served as Arboretum Manager. Professor Mary Taylor Haque remembers Porter as “strong, robust, and active.  What an addition he was to the Clemson University Department of Horticulture, the South Carolina Botanical Garden, and the surrounding community… He was always kind, caring, well-mannered, and supportive of his colleagues.”  Karl Pokorny, a friend who worked with Porter at Clemson, recalled Porter as “an honest, loyal friend; the kind of guy who would throw himself on a hand grenade to save you.  He was brave, a true gentleman, and patriot.  He applied himself to and studied everything he took an interest in and worked hard.  Doing tree jobs with him was more fun than work.”

Continued treatment of Porter’s service-related conditions eventually led to the diagnosis of an even more serious infection, like the others connected to his time on active duty.  Veterans Administration doctors determined that conditions in Somalia, including the lack of clean drinking water and exposure to environmental toxins released into the air by the burning of tires—a tactic used by Somali militias to block roads—aggravated Porter’s afflictions.

Despite his bravery and toughness, Porter was unable to overcome these hidden enemies.  He died on April 21, 2020.  He was survived by his wife, Tiffany, and sons Eli and Grayson.  He is memorialized at the Dolly Cooper Veterans Cemetery in Anderson.

With his passing, Pokorny says, “The world lost one of the good guys – in fact, one of the best of the good guys.

For more information about Philip Aaron Porter see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/philip-aaron-porter/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scroll of Honor – John Thomas Lyles, Jr.

Lost to the Pacific

Written by: Kelly Durham

The 507th Fighter Group deployed to the Pacific theater of operations in March 1945.  Its planned mission was to provide fighter escort for the Army Air Force’s new B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers, the most expensive weapons system ever developed up to that time.  Among the group’s pilots was Captain John Thomas Lyles, Jr., Clemson College Class of 1939.

Lyles was a  Newberry native and general science major.  At Clemson, he was a member of Sigma Epsilon, a social fraternal organization.  As a senior, he attained the rank of cadet second lieutenant.

A year after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, Lyles volunteered for Army service.  He initially served as an instructor with the 29th Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia.  In January 1942, just after the Pearl Harbor attack landed the United States in the middle of the world war, Lyles volunteered for the Army Air Force.  He received his wings on August 5, 1942 at Fort Moultrie, Georgia and was designated to fly fighter aircraft.

Lyles was assigned to the 463rd Fighter Squadron of the 507th Fighter Group, flying the rugged P-47 Thunderbolt fighter.  In March 1945, the group headed for the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean, where Allied forces, led by the United States, were slowly pushing the Japanese back from their island-based defensive perimeter toward Japan’s home islands.

With the capture of the Mariana Islands the previous summer, Army Air Force leaders moved quickly to establish operating bases from which B-29 bombers could launch air strikes against Japan’s major cities and production centers.  Previous attempts to conduct raids from airbases in China had been hampered by the difficulty of supplying operations by airborne logistics.  Since Allied forces did not at the time control the Chinese coast, all fuel, spare parts, rations, ordnance, and personnel had to be flown in from the west, over the Himalaya Mountains.  The logistics proved impractical and so General Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Force, looked for island bases in the Pacific that were close enough to Japan to accommodate the B-29’s 1,600 mile operating radius.  The first of these were established on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian, but Arnold intended to expand the use of his B-29s moving their bases ever closer as Allied forces tightened the noose around Japan.

Unlike the smaller, slower B-17s and B-24s flown in the European theater, the Superfortress featured a pressurized cabin, automated fire control systems, heavier bomb loads, and longer range.  Even with these advantages, the bombers still needed protection against Japanese fighters.  The 507th would be tasked with flying these escort missions once Army and Marine forces captured Okinawa and new bases for the B-29s were established there.

Even before the conquest of Okinawa was complete, the 507th was conducting training and test flights from airfields in the Marshall Islands.  On an altitude test flight on May 20, 1945, Captain Lyles and his wingman climbed to 30,000 feet above Eniwetok Atoll.  At that point, the wingman lost contact with Lyles.  Neither Lyles’s aircraft nor his body were recovered.  He was listed as missing and a year later, on May 21, 1945, was declared dead by the War Department.

Lyles was survived by his wife, the former Kathryn Crawford of Columbia, his parents, and one brother.

For more information about Captain John Thomas Lyles, Jr. see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/john-thomas-lyles-jr/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/