The Sumter community is grieving the loss of a true American hero with the passing of retired Air Force Col. Forist G. Dupree.
Dupree, 84, died Wednesday.
Dupree spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, flying jets in Korea and Vietnam, as well as other duties. He earned the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal and Korean War Service Medal. His second career was with First Command for 18 years as a representative and seminar speaker. He was a member of Alice Drive Baptist Church, where he served as a deacon, Sunday school teacher and choir member.
Jock Hendricks, music director at Alice Drive Baptist Church, has been the Duprees' neighbor for nine years.
"When we came to look at the house, he and his wife were headed out to supper," Hendricks said. "They took us to supper, and that's how they welcomed us to Sumter." Hendricks said Dupree loved to help others, and that included helping his new neighbor prepare the house prior to moving in.
"He helped me paint the inside, and we even did some plumbing," Hendricks said. "And I had to rush to try to get home when the grass needed cutting. Otherwise, he would cut it for me. I don't think I cut my own grass for the first year I lived here."
Hendricks said Dupree was also a leader at church.
"He loved to serve. He didn't take charge; he was in charge," Hendricks said. "I feel like I'm a better man because of him. If I live to be 100, I don't think I could be the man he was. He was a quiet hero."
In Korea, Dupree piloted an F-86E Sabrejet aircraft, which he dubbed "Dupe's Delight/Jaline" after his wife, Jaline Dupree.
The Air Force brought him to Sumter and, following his retirement in 1978, he decided to stay.
Dr. Clay Smith, senior pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church, said Dupree was an active member of the church.
He taught Sunday school, sang in the choir and was the church moderator for many years. "Everyone agreed that Forist should be the moderator because everyone knew he would be fair," Smith said. "I don't think a lot of people realize what a giving person he was. He had the gift of giving and serving others."
Smith said someone told him that Dupree requested the phrase "He helped a few people" on his tombstone. "He helped more than a few people," Smith said. "I can vouch for that." Smith also said that unless people sat down and talked with him, Dupree didn't mention his service awards or experiences.
"He was a true American hero," Smith said. "He's going to be missed. He's going to be missed by a lot of people."
Funeral services were held Friday at Alice Drive Baptist Church, with Elmore-Cannon-Stephens Funeral Home and Crematorium of Sumter in charge of the arrangements.