Greenville- My Hometown of Heroes

The beautiful Upstate city of Greenville, SC was once known as the Textile Center of the World. During the textile industry boom, the Poe Mill was the largest manufacturing center in the area. At one time the mill encompassed 75 acres of property and employed nearly 400 workers. Today all those spindles and looms have long since been silenced. As a result, the vibrant city reinvented itself and is now an internationally recognized city of commerce.

Poe MIll

Poe Mill, Greenville, SC

Personally, Greenville isn’t just a place of old red-brick mills and emerging institutes of commerce. If you ask me, my hometown is a place of heroes. The city’s name alone was taken from a hero of the American Revolution, Major General Nathanael Greene. This General of the Continental Army commanded the Southern Campaign and was considered George Washington’s right-hand man.

Rebecca in Greenville

Rebecca flirting with General Nathanael Greene.

(She evidently likes his tall statute and bronze skin.)

Since the birth of this nation, Greenville has had countless heroes grace its streets. Some of these heroes were natives of the city. Some resided there for only a short period of time. Others… they simply passed on through in their journey towards destiny. On April 6, 1917, America joined its allies in the Great War (WW1). Uncle Sam needed some land to train his troops in a new concept known as trench warfare. Just west of the city limits, at the base of Paris Mountain, 1,900 acres of Piedmont soil was offered up for the war movement. The name of this Army National Guard training site was called Camp Sevier.

Camp Sevier sign

Sign near Paris Mountain to mark the site of Camp Sevier.

At one time, Camp Sevier was training up to 46,000 officers and enlisted men to go do their part against the Kaiser overseas. In August of 1917, when the 30th Infantry Division arrived in Greenville, the army camp was literally transformed into a sprawling tent city overnight. In May of 1918, the 30th Infantry Division or the “Old Hickory Division” left the tranquil hills of Greenville and shipped off to France. At the war’s conclusion, the “Old Hickory Division” had distinguished itself in combat and sustained very heavy losses. The former doughboys of Greenville had 1,652 killed, 9,429 wounded and 77 captured in battle. A glimpse into the lives of one of these heroes is best captured in this letter written by Corporal Judson Dennis just before leaving for France. He would never return home from the war.

Sunday, April 28, 1918, 6 p.m., Camp Sevier, Greenville, S.C.

Dear Mother,

Will write you a word. I’m well and all is well. We are almost ready to sail for that country unknown to us soldier boys. We went in quarantine at 12:00 last night. I don’t know just how many days we will be in quarantine. You know all troops are quarantined before leaving for overseas. We are willing and ready to sail for we feel it is our duty and a debt we owe to our country to be loyal sons and true to our red, white and blue that shall wave forever. We feel that we are going to be cared for and someday return back to our own native land of the free.

The girls of Greenville gave the soldier boys a farewell reception at all the dance halls in Greenville last night. They sure did treat us so nice. We shall never forget them for the ladies and girls of Greenville have certainly treated us good during our stay in camp.

Well we have been busy all day. Stamping and checking up all our things. I wrote Tom today and I sent him a pair of shoes the other day. I didn’t say anything in his letter about me sending them. Tell him when he writes to tell me if he got them or not.

How is Albert? Hope he is well by now. Well I will not write much this time. I will write you again soon. I’m going to give you a few letters to use for signs when we are leaving places and etc.

Your son,
Corp. Judson Dennis

Don’t answer until you hear from me again. I will drop you a card when to write. Now I don’t want you to be uneasy or worry about me for we are going to make it all right. Your son.


Cpl. Dennis (standing on right)


Camp Sevier


Doughboys conduct bayonet training.


The “Old Hickory” (30th Infantry Division) in Greenville, SC


Camp Sevier at its heyday.

Just as Greenville trained our men in the first World War, the city again answered the call by establishing the Greenville Army Air Base in World War II. The men who first served at the base trained as B-25 bomber crew members before joining the battles raging in Europe and all over the Pacific.

Donaldson sign

Now the Donaldson Center Industrial Park

In 1951, the Greenville Army Air Base was renamed the Donaldson Air Force Base to honor another one of Greenville’s heroes, John Owen Donaldson.


John Owen Donaldson

John Owen Donaldson was not born in Greenville. This native of North Dakota moved to the Palmetto State at a young age and graduated from Greenville High School. After a short stint at Furman and then Cornell University, Donaldson went to aviator school in 1917 and learned to fly a biplane. Commissioned as a Lieutenant, the young flyboy went north to Canada and joined the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps. When the United States entered into the air campaign in 1918, Donaldson transferred to the American Air Corps. John Donaldson took to flying like a duck takes to water. In July 22 through August 29, 1918, the ace pilot destroyed four German fighters and drove three others right out of the sky. This hero of World War I was shot down on September 1, 1918. After escaping from captivity twice, and being bayoneted by a German sentry in the back, this former resident of Greenville survived the war. For his actions of heroism and gallantry in the skies over Mont Notre-Dame, Donaldson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Greenville Army Air base


Posts from World War II


A parade downtown Greenville honoring their flyboys.


Pilots stationed at Greenville preparing for the Pacific.


B-25 Bomber


Commissary- Donaldson AFB, December 1957

The Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962 was arguably the closest America ever came to an all-out nuclear war. After Fidel Castro met with Nikita Khrushchev, the Cuban dictator agreed to allow the Soviet Union to place ballistic missiles sites on Cuban soil. Those missiles were staged to point directly at the continental United States. Rumors of the crisis were soon confirmed by the CIA, and America grew desperate for additional intelligence on their Cold War rival.

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was a native of Greenville. As a child, Anderson obtained the rank of Eagle Scout from Greenville’s Boy Scout Troop # 19. After graduating from Greenville High School and then the ROTC program at Clemson University; Anderson was commissioned into the Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant. When the Korean War broke out, Anderson took to the skies and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses by flying reconnaissance missions over the Communist North.

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington needed a hero. It was only natural that they would turn to this Greenville native who had proven himself time and time again. Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was one of America’s top flyers in that day. On October 27, 1962 , the skilled aviator set out over the skies of Cuba in a U-2 spy plane. Two hours into his flight, Anderson was tragically shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. By the order of President John F Kennedy, Anderson was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Cheney Award, and a Purple Heart. The Greenville native’s life was not lost in vain. During his mission, Anderson was able to obtain photographic evidence confirming specific national security details surrounding the crisis.

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr.

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr.

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was the only person killed in the Cuban Missile Crisis. To this day, an F-86 Sabre Fighter plane is displayed proudly over the lush landscape of Cleveland Park in Greenville, SC. The F-86 fighter plane was similar to the one that the Major flew in during his heroics in the Korean War.


Anderson’s memorial at Cleveland Park.

In closing, it wouldn’t be fitting to forget about those every-day heroes of this remarkable city. Greenville’s Finest, the men and women in blue, risk their very lives to make the streets a safer place for all of its citizens. On the saddest of days, throughout the annuls of Greenville’s rich history, these heroes of heroes have also given the greatest of sacrifices.

police badge

On March 18, 2016, Police Officer Allen Jacobs was in foot pursuit of a wanted gang member. Tragically, the gang member turned back and senselessly gunned down Jacobs in the street. Officer Jacobs was 28-years-old, married and the father of two young boys. At the time of this heroic officer’s demise, his wife was 5 months pregnant with the couple’s first daughter. Prior to joining the Greenville Police, Jacobs served as a paratrooper in the United States Army. During Jacob’s selfless military service, this Upstate resident became a decorated Iraq war veteran. It is these extraordinary people, like Officer Jacobs, that make Greenville my hometown of heroes.

Allen Jacobs

Greenville Police Officer Allen Jacobs

End of Watch: March 18, 2016

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”– John 15:13

russ sorrow

Greenville Police Officer James “Russ” Sorrow

End of Watch: September 19, 1996

Greenville downtown

Greenville, SC voted one of the best Main Streets in America!

Thank you for reading about the heroes of my hometown. Feel free to explore more of my blog, leave a comment, and show some love on social media. I hope you will visit my site again real soon.

Happy travels,

Big John

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7 thoughts on “Greenville- My Hometown of Heroes

  1. I’m looking for any picture or pics of a Hickman at south Carolina donaldson airforce base 1957. Paul hickman or grant….

    1. Mary, I’m glad you enjoyed my article about heroes of Greenville. Thank you for your kind words. I just started this blog site and love getting comments such as yours.

      Big John

  2. Awesome website and great info. I love the stories. Keep up the good work as now you’re a part of the great Historical Society of the World. Anyone who delves into History and believes in its truth is part of this great Historical Society of our World.

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