Ross Perot to go in big on Medal of Honor museum effort (copy)

Ross Perot (right) gets a hug and handshake from Rudi Gresham after speaking at the Veterans Day celebration held at the Veterans' Victory House Nursing Home in Walterboro in 2013. File

H. Ross Perot's influence on South Carolina runs deep, pushing George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential race and making a pledge to help the Medal of Honor museum effort at Patriots Point — a museum that so far hasn't panned out.

One of his last visits to the state was in 2013, when he visited a veterans retirement home in Walterboro and reiterated his commitment to America's fighting men and women during a 15-minute Veterans Day address attended by hundreds.

“Your services and sacrifices have given us the freedom that we have today,” Perot said at Veterans' Victory House. “You understand something that most people simply don’t understand, and that is: Freedom is not free.”

Perot, who died Tuesday at age 89, returned to the state 10 months later and joined a press conference committing his support to the proposed National Medal of Honor Museum site at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant.

Backers of the museum depicted billionaire Perot’s involvement as a big step toward meeting the their then-$100 million fundraising goal.

While the museum has yet to materialize, Rudi Gresham, a retired Green Beret and longtime Perot supporter from Colleton County, said Perot's legacy will remain two-fold in the state.

First, his support for veterans, and secondly, his concerns about the growing deficit that launched his White House run.

"That was his pet peeve project," Gresham said of the deficit.

Otherwise, "he loved South Carolina, he loved the (aircraft carrier) Yorktown. He was a Navy man," Gresham said. "He was a great, great patriot."

While at Veterans' Victory House, Perot was reluctant to discuss that 1992 presidential campaign where he thrust himself onto the national stage as a precursor to Donald Trump's running as a Washington, D.C., outsider.

“Well, it didn’t work. We tried twice,” Perot said of his failed independent run versus Bush and eventual winner Democrat Bill Clinton. He also tried briefly in 1996.

History will show that Perot's race probably cost Bush re-election as his independent bid garnered votes that Bush had been counting on. Perot finished Election Day 1992 with 19 percent of the popular vote, costing Bush, some experts have said, a second term in office.

Perot did say he will always have fond memories of campaigning in the Palmetto State.

“Great experience here,” Perot said. “Great state. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

He remained focused on the deficit, though.

“It just keeps going up and up an up — makes no sense at all,” he said during that Veterans Day stop.

“But I really can’t blame anybody except the average citizen because they keep getting anybody that’s giving (the) goodies,” he added. “They don’t realize somebody has to pay this back some day, and our country is getting weaker and weaker all the time financially.”

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Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.