GREENWOOD, S.C. — Former Sen. John Drummond, the soft-spoken, strong-willed World War II veteran who spent more than 40 years at the South Carolina Statehouse, died Saturday.

Harley Funeral Home in Greenwood confirmed Drummond’s death. He was 96.

Drummond got the nickname “Bulldog” not because he was loud, but because he was tenacious and would fight when he thought he needed to.

Not long after he came to the then seniority-dominated Senate in 1967, the Democrat from Ninety Six got into a late night fistfight about political districts with one of the chamber’s leaders Sen. Rembert Dennis, D-Moncks Corner.

Drummond would go on to spend 40 years in the Senate, rising to majority leader in the late 1990s until Republicans took a majority of seats in the chamber in 2000.

Drummond was a fighter most of his life. He was a World War II fighter pilot, flying his plane “Raid Hot Mama” painted with a naked cowgirl wearing a holster over Europe. He spent 10 months in a German prisoner-of-war camp before heading back to the United States.

When Drummond returned, he went into business. But in the mid-1960s got involved in politics with the local Public Works Commission. That led to his election to the South Carolina House in 1965 and the Senate two years later.

Drummond was the first among seven children to graduate from high school. Three older siblings quit for mill work.

Drummond’s family and friends gathered at his home in Ninety Six nearly two years ago to celebrate his 95th birthday. Drummond’s son said at the time his father’s ability to serve people well was his greatest legacy.

“I guess you would say he dedicated his life to public service,” Brick Drummond said. “He was always trying to help somebody else. I guess that was his gift from the Lord, to try to help his fellow man.”

Gov. Nikki Haley thanked Drummond for his service and said she was praying for his family.

“John Drummond was born to serve, and he lived an extraordinary life,” Haley said in a statement.

Drummond’s funeral will be 3 p.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church of Ninety Six. The family will meet friends at the church for two hours before the service.

Drummond’s wife, Holly Self, died in 1999. He is survived by three sons: John H. “Brick” Drummond, Richard S. “Dick” Drummond and Robert S. “Bob” Drummond.