- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina veterans who were prisoners of war during World War II received state medals Thursday for their time in captivity.

In a ceremony at the Statehouse, Gov. Nikki Haley and Adjutant General Robert Livingston presented medals to 12 veterans ranging in age from 88 to 97, the son of a WWII veteran, and the widows of seven former POWs.

They were the first recipients of the South Carolina Prisoner of War Medal created by the Legislature.

“They are heroes, not for the time that they served, but for life,” Haley said. “South Carolina will forever be grateful for your service.”

The ceremony paused for an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” for Col. Chester Hackett of Columbia, who turned 96 on Thursday. The pilot spent a year as a German prisoner of war after his plane was shot down during a bombing mission to Poland. Having no parachute, he and two others crashed in a wheat field. One didn’t survive, he said.

“After dropping my bombs, I got hit right away. It knocked all four engines out,” he said, noting it was his 24th mission. “The Germans met us with shotguns and rifles. They watched us come down.”

The award was created last year by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate. The law, signed by Haley in June 2014, allows the governor to present the award to South Carolina residents who are on federal POW lists.

Sponsoring Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, said the state needed to recognize their service too.

Driving the effort was T.J. Martin of York, an Army veteran who spent 2 ½ years as a POW during the Korean War - 13 months of that in confinement. Martin, who’s worked with federal and state prisoner of war groups, said he felt it imperative that the WWII veterans should be honored by their state as soon as possible. He said his list of WWII prisoners of war living in South Carolina used to be in the hundreds.

“They will not be here 10 years from now,” he said.

Other WWII veterans honored in the ceremony:

- Robert Dunbar, 94, of Charleston, a prisoner for nine months.

- Jack Moak, 93, of Columbia, 21 months.

-Ernest Jenkins, 97, of Charleston, 16 months.

-Lou Fowler, 91, of Columbia, 16 months.

-James Gatch, 92, one year. The award was accepted by his son Charles Gatch.

-Emerson Roberts, 92, of Columbia, 11 months.

-Paul Hollen, 92, of Mount Pleasant, six months.

-Claud Young, 92, five months.

-Bill Pebley, 88, of Little Mountain, four months.

-Pete Wylie, 91, of Columbia, four months.

-Paul Luckadoo, 93, of Fort Mill, 10 months.

-Reginal Salsbury, 90, nine months.

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