EASLEY — For the past several years a small group of people have been working tirelessly to honor the memory of Capt. Kimberly Hampton by securing a helicopter to be placed at the library in Easley.
The group, which calls itself “Operation Dragonfly,” is the brain child of Jim Garrison, who has been spearheading the effort since 2014.
“I just had this vision of what it should look like,” said Garrison. “This is something that’s always been in my heart and on my mind.”
Garrison said the group was closer than ever to reaching it’s goal.
“The support we’ve received from the community has been amazing,” he said. “People have really gotten on board with the idea of continuing to honor Kimberly’s legacy.”
Letters of support have poured in from just about everyone: the school board, city councils, the local delegation and state representative’s and senator’s offices — just to name a few.
Step one, Garrison said, was asking Dale and Ann Hampton if they were OK with the idea.
“They were thrilled,” said Garrison. “I wouldn’t have done anything if they were not 100 percent on board.”
Step two? Well, finding a helicopter.
“This isn’t a statue of a helicopter, it’s the real deal,” Garrison said. “Of course it’ll be somewhat stripped down, rotors welded in a fixed position, electronics and engine removed — things like that. It won’t fly again, but it’ll be something you can really look at and see what it was she was flying. But it turns out they are not all that easy to come by.”
Garrison wants a helicopter similar to the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Capt. Hampton was piloting when she was shot down near Fallujah on Jan. 2, 2004, becoming the first female military pilot in United States history to be shot down and killed as a result of hostile fire as well as the first female combat casualty in Iraq from South Carolina.
“County Councilman Chris Bowers made a good point of clarification the other day when he said the library itself is already a monument — we’re just adding to it,” Garrison said. “The land is there.”
Garrison said as the city of Easley continues to grow, a whole new influx of people have moved to the area.
“I bet 90 percent of the people that walk in the library have no idea who Kimberly Hampton was,” he said. “All of us who were here for that know, but we’re adding generations now. I’m a very visual person, a helicopter on the grounds would be a talking point. People who even just came to the area would know who she was and what she did.”
Garrison’s vision for the monument itself is a simple one: a small park with the helicopter as the centerpiece.
“This isn’t a playground, it (the helicopter) will be raised and fenced so we’re not talking about something kids will be climbing on,” he said. “This is a place where you can reflect and remember.
“You can go in the library, see Kimberly’s portrait, borrow Ann’s book ‘Kimberly’s Flight,’ come outside and read it — next to the helicopter (like the one) she flew,” he said.
Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time someone tried to do this.
According to Garrison, George Newton, father of Don Newton who owns the Ace Hardware in Easley, almost had a helicopter once before.
“I don’t know what exactly happened, but something fell through with the County Council at the time,” he said. “But he (Don) said it came really close. He said (his dad) had a letter from Sen. Lindsay Graham saying the helicopter was on its way. Either way, it never worked out.”
Garrison said he wasn’t aware if the issue ever officially came before the council but he suspected the reasons for rejecting the idea had to do with insurance and maintenance.
“Happily, the current council is all in,” he said. “Chris (Bowers) was hooked on the idea immediately and I think everyone’s really excited. But, after what happened the first time, it did make it a little awkward when I basically asked Sen. Graham if he could find us another helicopter … But he immediately agreed.”
As of now, no chopper has been found although there have been a few prospects.
“We really just need the shell so we’re looking at what’s called ‘struck’ helicopters,” he said. “That means they can’t fly or anything anymore — but we don’t want one that’s all banged up either.”
When completed, the park will be situated on the left hand side of the library in a grassy area near the book return.
“I’m just really excited about this,” said Garrison. “Well, we all are. Operation Dragonfly is a go.”