Memorial Day memories: 'We were always Billy and Numpy'

CLOVER, S.C. _ For 40 years, Clover's Robert "Billy" Plemmons hasn't needed a calendar to tell him that the last Monday in May is Memorial Day _ the day America honors its war dead.

In May 1969, Plemmons' brother died in Vietnam. Sgt. Norman Plemmons and seven others died on May 4, 1969 when two helicopters collided.

Norman was always "Nump." Or "Numpy."

"We were always Billy and Numpy," Plemmons recalled, just like it was yesterday. The two brothers were just over a year apart. "All we had was each other."

They were Billy and Numpy when they were so poor that they ran away and had to shoot game to eat. When they hopped freight trains _ one time as going as far as Florida _ and threw coal off the cars to later gather and sell for a few cents or a dollar.

They were Billy and Numpy when they were in an orphanage for four years in the 1950s during hard times for their momma, Ann. Billy and Numpy when first Billy, then Numpy, joined the Army as soon as they were old enough, even though young men were already dying in Vietnam in the mid-1960s.

"Tried to join the Marines before that, but I couldn't prove my age," Plemmons said. "I got in the Army, and so did Nump. The only way out of a hard life for boys like us."

Numpy re-enlisted after two tours in the infantry in Vietnam, ending up a helicopter gunner. His job was to kill.

He had so many medals _ the Bronze Star for valor, two Purple Hearts, including one from the time Nump was shot through his forehead and sinus and temporarily blinded. Billy got out of the service without going to Vietnam and came to live in Clover, where his wife lived.

Then on May 6, 1969, the telegram came to their momma, Ann, at her home in Charlotte. Numpy, whose last hometown was listed as Mount Holly, N.C., just across the state line, was dead. A letter from President Richard Nixon came a few days later.

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