ANDERSON, SC (WSPA) – They may be standing next to us at the Bi-Lo, or even driving beside us on Interstate 85, but you’d never know that some of the bravest, most courageous heroes in the world — going on about their lives in such an ordinary way — live right here in the Upstate.
One reason is because these veterans have gone on with their lives, had families and started working.
But the other reason is because they rarely talk about the things they’ve done to defend each other and protect this country.
We sat down with 60 or so men and women — sitting in plastic chairs around folding tables — sharing coffee and donuts at an Elks Lodge in Anderson.
Some of the veterans present include U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force veterans who all served in Vietnam.
“My name is Jessee Taylor,” one veteran said. “I served with the 82nd Airborne, 101st in Vietnam.”
Taylor has more decorations that the Biltmore at Christmas.
A Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with a “V” for valor in combat, two Army commendations — both with a “V” — all of them earned by his bravery in Vietnam.
Taylor is at the Elks Lodge every week, along with other retired officers, pilots and grunts.
“I’m Tom Miller. I was drafted into the Army, 1968. I served for two years.”
Miller wasn’t just in the Army, he fought at Hamburger Hill, which was a bloody, but terribly short-lived American victory against the North Vietnamese Army.
Another veteran, Nathan Carruthers, served in the Pacific in World War II for 17 months. He never set foot on dry land.
Every veteran at that Elks Lodge has a story — all having done incredible things and all still doing great things in that room.
When the VA canceled his PTSD support group, Taylor took things into his own hands.
Taylor took the sign-in sheet with everyone’s name and phone number and made a copy.
“That evening, I went home and started calling and I made contact with 14 guys that evening,” Taylor said.
Those phone calls soon became the foundation of Vets Helping Vets Anderson.
What started as 14 heroes meeting at a library, became nearly a 100 veterans meeting at the Elks Lodge.
The group, consisting of mostly combat veterans, bound together in an unbreakable bond of love for one another.
We asked Miller, “Where would you be right now if this place didn’t exist?”
“Probably in my bedroom,” he told us. “Just locked up. It got to the point where that happened.”
When Miller got back from Vietnam, he couldn’t talk about his experience.
After awhile, Miller couldn’t talk at all.
He became a shut in and then a hospital patient on medication and shock therapy.
Only being at those meetings helped bring Miller back.
“Everybody here has got that common bond,” Taylor said. “Regardless of what they did on the outside, when they come in here they’re a veteran.”
That understanding is what makes Vets Helping Vets so special.
They’ve already proven how tough they are, so there’s no tough talk.
In fact, rarely do you meet a group of men so eager to talk about love.
“We love each other, and that’s one thing I do push is love,” one veteran said. “You can go a long way with love.”
Another veteran thanked the group for their support following the loss of his wife.
“I just lost my wife about three weeks ago, and I want to tell you how much I appreciate all the guys who called and talked to me. And I love every one of you, and thank you.”
When Billy Konrad needed a liver transplant, the same men and woman who stood with him in service never left his side.
“I’d wake up and there were these guys standing there, all from this group,” Konrad said.
The group raised money for his bills and cut his lawn back at home.
“This group has given me a reason to exist, to live,” Taylor said.
Outside of the Elks Lodge, these same people go back to their regular Upstate lives.
But the room will draw them back — back to the heroes they once were, doing the things that made them great.
“Just being here is the best dose of medicine I’ve had in several weeks…good to see y’all. Good to be back. I love you men.”
The group meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Elks Lodge in Anderson.