One hundred years ago this past Sunday, Jimmie Dyess was born in Augusta. He lived for only 35 years but what a life he lived!
There was a pattern to his life that we can all learn from -- a pattern of selfless service, courage and concern for others that was truly extraordinary. It is fitting that we celebrate the anniversary of his birthday.
Both Augusta and North Augusta can lay claim to the only person to have earned America's two highest awards for heroism. He lived with his family in North Augusta from 1909 until he left to attend Clemson in 1927. He attended Richmond Academy and was especially active as a leader in the corps of cadets. He was a student at Clemson on summer vacation when he earned the Carnegie Medal. When he returned from Clemson in 1931, he lived in Augusta until he was called to active duty in the Marine Corps in 1940. He earned the Medal of Honor in combat in February, 1944. Dyess was killed on the last day of combat on the Japanese island of Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands.
THROUGHOUT THE CSRA, the Medal of Honor is well understood and well respected. Many have read the best selling book, Medal of Honor by Peter Collier or the recent book by Medal of Honor recipient, Jack Jacobs, If Not Now, When? I heartily recommend both.
In addition, many have met a Medal of Honor recipient; in the past seven years, seven recipients have come to Augusta in November to support the Boy Scouts at the annual fund raiser. However, the Carnegie Medal is not well understood and deserves some attention.
In all of world history, Andrew Carnegie was the second-wealthiest person (John D. Rockefeller is 1st, Queen Elizabeth I is15th, Bill Gates is 37th). Carnegie spent the last 18 years of his life giving his money away; he gave away, to good causes, 96 percent of his wealth.
Carnegie was extremely wise in how he parceled out his gifts. He started more than 20 foundations, most of which are thriving today.
Of all his foundations, the one he was most proud of was the Carnegie Heroes Fund Commission. The purpose of this commission is to honor those civilians who accomplished an act of extraordinary courage as they attempted to save the life of someone in great danger.
Jimmie Dyess earned his Carnegie Medal as a result of an action he took off the shores of Sullivan's Island in 1928. One woman was drowning and another woman who courageously swam out to save her was not being successful and was in grave danger of drowning herself. The storm was huge, yet Jimmie Dyess, with no help from anyone else, swam way out to sea in the heavy storm and rescued both women.
SIXTEEN YEARS later, Lieutenant Colonel Dyess, U.S. Marine Corps, earned the Medal of Honor. He went behind enemy lines to save the lives of four badly wounded Marines. The next day he was leading his men against the last Japanese pillbox, when he was shot and killed.
Dyess's legacy continues:
1. The Jimmie Dyess Parkway is a vital artery for those who work or live at or near Fort Gordon.
2. Fort Gordon recently revised its welcoming video. Everyone newly assigned to the Fort now learns about Dyess's valor in peace and war.
3. In 2004, Dyess was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Clemson University.
4. The Navy and Marine Reserve Center on Central Avenue is now named in honor of Dyess.
5. The headquarters building of the 24th Marines outside of Kansas City is named in his honor.
6. Dyess Field on the island of Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands is a very active facility. This island is a key space-tracking facility for NASA and the Department of Defense.
7. Recently, the Semper Fi Society of Clemson University started an annual 5-kilometer race. The Jimmie Dyess honorary race is held each April at Clemson.
8. Other organizations that honor him include Richmond Academy, The Marine Corps League and the Order of the Purple Heart.
WHAT CAN YOU do to learn more about Dyess, the Medal of Honor or the Carnegie Medal? Twice a Hero: The Jimmie Dyess Story is a 60-minute DVD that tells his story. It is available at the gift shop at the Augusta Museum of History.
On the second floor of this fine museum at 6th and Reynolds Street downtown, there a wonderful display that tells the story of the USS Dyess, the USS Augusta and Jimmie Dyess. "A Century of Heroes" tells the story of the Carnegie Heroes Fund and the Carnegie Medal. In this book is a chapter on Jimmie Dyess.
Finally, I encourage everyone to visit the newly upgraded Congressional Medal of Honor Museum in Mount Pleasant South Carolina. Bring the kids and grandkids.
(Maj. Gen. Perry Smith U.S. Air Force retired, is the son-in-law of Jimmie Dyess. His wife, Connor, was 8 years old when her father was killed.)