BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Lewis George Watkins was born on June 6, 1925 in Seneca, South Carolina. He graduated from Greenville High School, South Carolina in 1949. He was a member of the Greenville Police Department when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on September 12, 1950. After training at Parris Island, South Carolina, he served at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton, California before being deployed to Korea.
In October of 1952 Watkins was a Staff Sergeant with Company I, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. On October 7, 1952, Watkins’ platoon was assigned to retake an outpost from the enemy. Although wounded in the fight, he placed automatic fire on the enemy machine gun position holding up the assault. When an enemy grenade landed among Watkins and several other marines while they were moving forward through a trench on the hill crest, he immediately pushed his companions aside, placed himself in a position to shield them and picked up the deadly missile in an attempt to throw it outside the trench. Watkins was mortally wounded when the grenade exploded in his hand, but saved the lives of several of his comrades and contributed materially to the success of the mission. He was awarded his Medal of Honor posthumously for service in Korea on that day.
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Watkins of Seneca, South Carolina, received notification that their son had been awarded the nation’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, in a letter from General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Watkins family later donated the medal to the Patriot’s Hall Veterans Museum in Walhalla, South Carolina. Watkins is Oconee County‘s only Medal of Honor recipient.
In October 2007, fifty-five years later, The Seneca Post Office was renamed the “Staff Sgt. Lewis G. Watkins Post Office” in honor of his service to the Upstate and to the United States.
In an article in the Anderson Independent Mail, Anderson South Carolina, Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., who delivered the keynote address at the renaming of the Post Office, spoke of Staff Sgt. Watkins’ character. Looking at what it must have taken to be so bold in the face of imminent danger, Rep. Barrett asked, “Why would a guy risk everything he had to save somebody? You could say it was courage … his training … you could say it was a lot of different things. I say it’s love. Love for his country, for his family and for his friends.”
The citation for S/Sgt. Lewis G. Watkins reads:
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
STAFF SERGEANT LEWIS G. WATKINS
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a guide of a rifle platoon of Company I, in action against enemy aggressor forces during the hours of darkness on the morning of October 7, 1952. With his platoon assigned the mission of retaking an outpost which had been overrun by the enemy earlier in the night, S/Sgt. Watkins skillfully led his unit in the assault up the designated hill. Although painfully wounded when a well-entrenched hostile force at the crest of the hill engaged the platoon with intense small-arms and grenade fire, he gallantly continued to lead his men. Obtaining an automatic rifle from one of the wounded men, he assisted in pinning down an enemy machine gun holding up the assault. When an enemy grenade landed among Staff Sergeant Watkins and several other Marines while they were moving forward through a trench on the hill crest, he immediately pushed his companions aside, placed himself in a position to shield them and picked up the deadly missile in an attempt to throw it outside the trench. Mortally wounded when the grenade exploded in his hand, Staff Sergeant Watkins, by his great personal valor in the face of almost certain death, saved the lives of several of his comrades and contributed materially to the success of the mission. His extraordinary heroism, inspiring leadership, and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
/S/ DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER President of the United States
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.