- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A half century ago, a tiny black enclave in South Carolina sent 10 percent of its population to fight in the Vietnam War - and now there are efforts to make sure the contributions of the fighters from Liberty Hill are never forgotten.

Liberty Hill, now part of North Charleston, was first settled by free blacks and freed slaves in the waning days of the Civil War and formally established as a community in 1871.

A century later, 64 men from the community of only 600 went to fight in Vietnam. Some did so to give back to their country - even if they were treated by that country as second-class citizens.

“I don’t think there is another community in the land that can make the boast of such a high number from such a small community,” said Henry Darby, author of “Liberty Hills Vietnam Fighting Men” and a Charleston County councilman. “There may be someplace out there but I just don’t know of it.”

Put another way, 2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Had 10 percent of the population served at the time, that figure would have been 18 million.

Darby’s 2013 book focuses on the eight men from Liberty Hill who never returned from the war. The story of the black fighters was also the subject of a seminar this month aboard the USS Yorktown at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Odell Price was one of the first blacks to desegregate North Charleston High School, graduating in 1967 and then volunteering for the Marines.

He said the GI Bill would allow him to further his education, but said he also welcomed the chance to give back to his country.

“We were brought up in this country and people wanted to do what they could,” said Price, now 65. “You’re going to be patriotic even though there are people who are going to do some wrong to you. Where you can you right those wrongs and try to make a difference.”

Alfreda Levaine’s brother, Marine Pvt. Nathan White, was 19 when he was killed in Vietnam as he attempted to save a buddy as his unit crossed a river.

“It was a dark time,” said Levaine, 69, recalling the era when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. She herself marched through downtown Charleston with Coretta Scott King as hospital workers, most of them black and most of them women, struck for higher wages.

As for those who went to Vietnam from the neighborhood where she still lives, “Those boys were too young to get into trouble. They were just 17 and 18 and never had any problems.”

She said her brother was determined to serve his nation.

“He said if I don’t go, then you guys can’t live well,” she recalled. “My brother didn’t die for nothing. He died for a cause.”

While Vietnam vets were often ostracized after the war, Price had a different experience in Liberty Hill.

“When I came home I was celebrated,” he said. “You saw guys at that time wearing their uniforms in the community and it was something to be proud of.”

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