Retired Maj. James Capers Jr. smiles after a plaque was unveiled in his honor in his hometown of Bishopville, S.C., at the town’s Memorial Park, Aug. 29, 2020. Capers is a Silver Star recipient who was the first African American to command a Marine Reconnaissance company and to receive a battlefield commission. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Erik Estrada
This article was originally published Sept. 4, 2020, on Marines.mil.
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Rachael A Treon, Headquarters Marine Corps
ARLINGTON, Va. — The residents of Bishopville, a small South Carolina town, filled the streets, Aug. 29, for a special celebration honoring their hometown hero. The motto “Heritage, History, Home,” proudly painted on the Main Street mural perfectly embodied the town’s spirit as everyone gathered for the return of retired Major James “Jim” Capers Jr.
Maj. Capers, described by his comrades as the “utmost Marine”, is the recipient of a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with “V” for valor, and three Purple Hearts. Most notably for his time in Vietnam, he is one of the most decorated Marines in Force Reconnaissance history. He became the first African American to command a Marine Reconnaissance company and to receive a battlefield commission.
“This is what you call a great moment in America. What’s most amazing about Jim is not necessarily his combat career. . . .The greatest thing about Jim is who he is, it’s him as a man, him as a person. . . . He never asked anyone to do something he wasn’t willing to do. He always led by personal example and always led from the front.” — retired Maj. Gen. Mastin Robeson, former commander, Marine Forces Special Operations Command
The townspeople cheered and waved small American flags as the celebration began with the “Parade of Heroes.” Led by the recently turned 83-year-old Capers, veterans and active duty, from near and far, marched proudly in uniform, veteran’s attire, old unit gear, or simply an American flag T-shirt.
Followed by speeches from the Bishopville mayor, South Carolina state senators and representative, retired Maj. Gen. Mastin Robeson, a letter written by the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue read by his council, and the presentation of the highest civilian award in the state, every speech or letter addressed Maj. Capers’ service beyond the battlefield.
“This is what you call a great moment in America,” former commander, Marine Forces Special Operations Command and friend of Capers since 2009. “What’s most amazing about Jim is not necessarily his combat career. . . .The greatest thing about Jim is who he is, it’s him as a man, him as a person. . . . He never asked anyone to do something he wasn’t willing to do. He always led by personal example and always led from the front.”
When asked to describe Maj. Capers in one word, common choices included hero, brave, brother, patriot, family, strong, inspiration and American. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he continued his life of service by working closely with those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and always lending a helping hand to anyone in need. After losing his wife and son, those who consider him family are those he “adopted” along the way.
The crowd stood in awe, followed shortly by an eruption of applause as an elaborate plaque titled “The Place, The Legend, The Man” was unveiled in the town’s Memorial Park. The Place, showing North and South Vietnam; The Legend, a textured recreation Maj. Capers’ iconic Marine Corps recruitment campaign poster with the text “Ask a Marine;” and The Man, his story from the beginning in Bishopville.
Capers addressed the crowd stating he was overwhelmed with emotion. “All of the awards that were bestowed upon me this morning, I don’t deserve any of this,” said Capers. “It really doesn’t belong to me, I’m just a caretaker.”
Family and friends standing teary eyed close by, he continued to address all the service members who never had a parade held for them, the ones who weren’t taken care of when they came home, and the ones who never returned.
The celebration concluded with a gathering at the Veterans Museum, where the man who proudly became the face of the Marine Corps when he could barely stand after being wounded 19 times, the man who devoted his life to a country who continued to judge him based on the color of his skin, the man who turned strangers into family, stood in astonishment at the number of people willing to come see him on a Saturday morning.
For more than 150 years, the Medal of Honor has been used to recognize acts of extraordinary battlefield courage performed in service to the United States.
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