Third Herd thunder on display

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American Legion preserves history of artillery unit

By Greg Summers

The S.C. National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 178th Field Artillery, once based in Lancaster was deactivated in August, but its legacy is alive and well. And now, thanks to the members of American Legion Post 31, the unit – called Palmetto Thunder by some and the “Third Herd” by others – won’t be forgotten. Those who attend Saturday’s Veterans Day ceremony will get a chance to see what gave that unit its ground-shaking name.  Post 31 was able to secure an 8-inch towed Howitzer and an 8-inch self-propelled Howitzer M110 to permanently display at the American Legion building. Both artillery systems have been retired from military service. They were placed alongside the 90mm anti-aircraft gun in front of the American Legion building Oct. 21. “There are a lot of people from Lancaster who have been part of this unit, including me,” said Post 31’s Carl Parker. “This legacy of service is tied to the county and shouldn’t ever be forgotten.” Parker said when Palmetto Thunder was deactivated and its members were attached to an engineering unit in Rock Hill, there was concern among Post 31 members that the unit’s rich tradition was in danger of falling through the cracks. Palmetto Thunder’s origin can be traced back to the early 1900s when it was designated as the 429th Artillery Company, becoming the first National Guard unit in Lancaster County. In 1944, the unit became part of the anti-aircraft 107th Separate Battalion Coast Artillery with its members seeing action in North Africa and Sicily. Palmetto Thunder was briefly inactivated after the Italian Campaign, but was reorganized as a headquarters battery for the 713th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion.  The unit was mobilized during the Korean Conflict and during a major reorganization of the S.C. National Guard in 1959, it became the 3rd Battalion 263rd Artillery. Another reorganization in 1963 led to it becoming the 3rd Howitzer Battalion, 178th Artillery. It became the 3rd Battalion, 178th Field Artillery in 1968. Despite its different classifications, Palmetto Thunder shined, earning a Governor’s Unit Citation, personal praise from the U.S. Army chief of staff,  letters of commendation and an invitation to march in the 1981 Presidential Inaugural Parade. Through the years, it has supplied support in national disasters ranging from forest fires to tornadoes and hurricanes. Parker said in 1934, the unit was even called for “strike duty” at the Springs Mills Lancaster Plant. “Through it all, these were Lancaster men who were serving,” Parker said. “I’m honored to be one of six brothers who served in it. My son did, too, but was killed during a training accident.” In 1997, the battalion was reorganized as a multiple launch rocket system unit. Palmetto Thunder was mobilized in February 2004 and served in Iraq for 12 months, where its soldiers provided security along supply routes and at check points.       “One of the things we’ve been working on is compiling the unit’s history from start to finish so that nobody forgets it,” Parker said. After Palmetto Thunder was deactivated in August, Parker said Post 31 members came up with the idea to have the two additional artillery pieces placed in front of the American Legion building in its honor. Parker said he and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny Hinson had a parking lot conversation with S.C. Adjutant Gen. Stan Spears that got the process rolling. Letters written to Buddy Sturgis, director of the state’s military museum got a quick reply. “It was possible, but we figured it would take about a year,” Parker said. “But he (Sturgis) put some speed to it. It was just a matter of two or three weeks.” The two artillery pieces were moved Oct. 21, after some landscaping work by Post 31 members. Parker is urging all former members of the 178th to attend the dedication service for the guns after the Veterans Day Parade on Saturday.   “We’re excited,” Parker said. “It’s ready to go just in time for the parade, too.” Veterans Day Parade WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday  WHERE: Main Street; lineup is 9 a.m. in the Lancaster County Courthouse parking lot. After the parade, there will be a patriotic program at the American Legion building on Kershaw Camden Highway (South Main Street). The Market Street entrance to the fairgrounds complex will be open, too.     INFORMATION: Call 283-2469