Ceremony was just ‘another mission’ for trooper

Lt. Derrick Gamble, with the South Carolina Highway Patrol honor guard, carries the folded Confederate battle flag from the monument in front of the Statehouse. The flag will now be housed in the state Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

COLUMBIA — There was no denying it was a powerful sight:

Lt. Derrick Gamble, a black man, carrying away the Confederate battle flag forever from the place where it flew for more than 50 years. A symbol of division, a reminder of a painful past, rolled tightly with a ribbon in the palms of his gloved hands.

Humbled and poised in his crisp gray uniform, Gamble said his role in Friday’s Honor Guard ceremony permanently furling the rebel banner was just “another mission.”

“To me, maybe it hasn’t sunk in,” he said, “but it’s just part of what we do.”

Born and raised in Lynchburg, the 14-year South Carolina Highway Patrol veteran joined the Honor Guard because he wanted to be a part of something special. He remembers seeing a unit in action for the first time. That sense of pride. The public’s esteem. He felt it on June 24, when he and his same unit shouldered the casket of slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney into the Statehouse for public viewing while the senator’s widow and young daughters looked on.

“I think the biggest thing for me is seeing how the people of South Carolina have pulled together in this tragedy,” he said.

Otherwise, Gamble, 47, holds no personal feelings about the flag one way or another. Without its shadow on the lawn, the Capitol doesn’t feel any different to him.

But participating in Friday’s ceremony, he said, “ranks near the top” of his career.

He rose at 4:30 a.m. Friday to make the hour-long drive to Columbia. He ironed his uniform the day before.

His wife and five kids, he said, have taken this all in stride.

Shorty after 10 a.m., 18 hours after Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill banishing the flag from the grounds, his seven-man unit emerged on the Statehouse lawn. The crowd roared and applauded. They marched at half step, their arms swinging in unison at their sides until they reached the black gates surrounding the 30-foot pole.

As he marched, Gamble said he had one thing on his mind:

“Don’t get out of step.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.