John Rivers does not think his 20 years of service in the United States Navy, nor his 26 years as Orangeburg County’s veteran affairs officer, makes him more of a patriot than anyone else who loves their country.
In fact, the soft-spoken veteran admires anyone who pledges allegiance to the U.S. flag and sings the National Anthem as a way of paying homage to their native land.
Rivers, however, has gained a respect among his coworkers and community for being an outstanding advocate for the more than 7,000 veterans in Orangeburg County. Whether he’s coordinating the next Memorial Day observance ceremony, or assisting veterans getting to their appointments at the Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Rivers champions each cause with care and concern.
It is his devoted love, support and defense of his country and the welfare of its veterans that earned his designation as the exemplification of patriotism for the month of April as part of the Orangeburg County Community of Character initiative.
“I was very surprised and excited. I am an advocate for the veterans of Orangeburg County … and advise them on all the benefits that they’re entitled to receive and developing the claim to obtain their benefit from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Whether it be a monetary benefit or health benefit, we deal with all aspects of it,” Rivers said.
His main goal now is providing timely service to the veterans who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Several of them are requiring assistance in dealing with physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress syndrome and death in the aftermath of the War on Terror.
Rivers has already assisted in the development of the Orangeburg VA Clinic, located in Village Park off St. Matthews Road, and in obtaining a 15-passenger van to transport Orangeburg County veterans to the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia. He said, as in other counties, transportation remains a problem for many veterans.
“We have some of the finest health care systems in the world with the Dorn VA Hospital, but the problem is veterans having problems getting there and not being able to pay anyone to take them there. It is a problem because the size of the county is so large,” Rivers said. “From Springfield to Eutaw Springs, it’s a very large geographical area.”
He said he loves his job as county veteran affairs officer. The St. Matthews native said his own 20 years in the military helped him develop a spirit of patriotism and teamwork.
“Character in general definitely starts within the home. With me, it started with my parents (the late Hercules and Purnell Rivers) and my very strong and supportive grandparent (the late Rev. C.A. Harmon). They were supportive in teaching me and guiding me in the right direction, especially my grandfather because he was a minister,” Rivers said.
Rivers said his grandfather helped him to understand that anything is possible for those who believe, and also steered him away from “bad company.”
“He had a little saying. Every time I would come home from an annual leave and go back, they would tell me, ‘OK, grandson, if you follow good, good will follow you.’ If you do bad, it would also follow you. … That’s the kind of stuff that stuck with me all through the years,” he said.
“Do the right thing.”
Rivers, who lost his beloved wife of 44 years, Mae, in February, has four children: Jonathan, 44; Stephanie, 38; Adrian, 34 and Edwin, 24. He is also the proud grandfather of eight “beautiful, blessed” grandchildren.
Rivers, who seemingly has no plans to retire from his longtime duties as veteran affairs officer, said he is thankful to the Orangeburg County Community of Character Initiative.
“In spite of some of the things that my grandfather talked about not being involved in, I think we’re starting to see a lot of good things happening in Orangeburg. There are a lot of good people in Orangeburg County. I do appreciate the character initiative and what they’re doing,” Rivers said.
“It’s not what you see in yourself oftentimes, but what other people see in you.”