Webster Anderson was one of two men from South Carolina who won Congressional Medals of Honor for their deeds in Vietnam. (Ralph Johnson was the other). Anderson, born in Winnsboro on July 15, 1933, was a career member of the U.S. Army, joining the army in 1953, long before he began his tour of duty in Vietnam.
It seemed nothing could stop Webster Anderson. Not North Vietnamese troops. Not the loss of both legs and a hand. Not the loss of a spouse. Until the end, Army Sgt. 1st Class Anderson pressed on — driven to see his life of 70 years end on his own terms, family and friends said Monday.
Anderson, one of only eight South Carolinians who received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Vietnam War, died of cancer Saturday at his Fairfield County home. “He did not cry. He did not mumble. He did not complain,” said Anderson’s son, Davis. “He took his last breath with dignity.”
Anderson’s wife, Vickie, said her husband’s strong will and determination to see things through to the end were the qualities she most admired. “When he did something, he didn’t stop until he got it right, and he never left anything undone,” Vickie Anderson said. “I learned a lot from him. He made me a better woman.”
Webster Anderson also refused to let the injuries he suffered get to him, friends and family said. “He didn’t hold a grudge,” said John F. Baker of Columbia, also a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War. “He was just a real nice, pleasant and friendly guy.”
Anderson usually started the day doing 200 push-ups and 200 sit-ups, and lifting weights with his one arm. He walked five miles a day on his artificial limbs, said Davis, 32, his youngest son. “There’d be days when he’d throw off those legs and jump into Lake Wateree for a swim,” Davis Anderson added. His father would take Fridays off from his TV repair business, get his boat and go fishing.
“He taught me that we could be anything we wanted, and he lived his life that way,” Davis Anderson said. That lesson served Davis Anderson well. When he was 9 months
old, Davis lost a leg to cancer. The disability didn’t deter Davis, who went on to play high school football and graduate from college.
While Webster Anderson said in interviews he didn’t dwell on what happened in Vietnam, he admitted to a reporter that he couldn’t forget what fate dealt him on Oct. 15, 1967. Sgt. Anderson was with an artillery battery of the 101st Airborne Division at a place called Tam Ky.
That night, the battery of about 60 soldiers was attacked and overrun by North Vietnamese. “When it happened, I looked at our young kids, and they were so scared,” said Anderson, 34 at the time of the attack. “They were jumping in holes and crying. A lot of them were getting killed, and I thought I was going to die, too.”
Anderson mounted the exposed parapet of his howitzer position to direct fire at the enemy and shoot his rifle at attacking North Vietnamese soldiers. Two grenades exploded at Anderson’s feet, severely injuring his legs. Anderson lifted himself off the ground, propped up against the parapet and continued to direct his soldiers.
Another enemy grenade landed in the gun pit near a wounded member of Anderson’s crew. Anderson tried to throw it away, but it exploded in his right hand.
Despite his injuries, Anderson refused medical treatment and continued to direct his troops until they repulsed the attack.
For his actions, Anderson was awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress. President Richard Nixon presented it to him in November 1969.
Parades and banquets were held in Anderson’s honor when he returned to his hometown of Winnsboro in December 1969. Among those attending the ceremonies were Gov. Bob McNair and U.S. Sens. Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings.
Anderson pressed on with his life, operating a TV repair shop from his home and raising his family of two boys and a girl. All went to college. Two became teachers; Davis is Fairfield County deputy administrator.
A fire destroyed Anderson’s home in 1975. Everything was lost, including his Medal of Honor. But Thurmond got Anderson another one.
His first wife, Ida, died in 1991. He married his second wife, Vickie, in 1996.
Webster Anderson kept up his rigorous pace until 1995, when a fifth stroke robbed him of the use of his left arm. Baker said he visited Webster Anderson almost daily during the
two months he was being treated for colon cancer at the Dorn VA Hospital.
“He left the hospital about a month ago,” said Baker, who works in the hospital’s computer department. “He wanted to go home and die.” On Saturday, Webster Ander-
son lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his wife, children and step-children, and some of their 13 grand- and step-grandchildren.
Death came the way Webster Anderson wanted. “We’ve got to be thankful now,”
Davis Anderson said. “He’s no longer in any pain. “They say old soldiers never
die, they just fade away. But he’ll be with us for a long, long time.”