By Marsha M. Brown
As most of you know last weekend Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant & Tavern and its dedicated staff organized, promoted and executed their 26th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Nags Head. Hopefully you had an opportunity to participate or at least enjoy the ‘show’ from the sidelines but either way…you couldn’t help but have noticed the impressive number of veterans who took part in it this year!
As usual the traditional Parade lineup places our past and present servicemen at the front…the perfect placement of honor to our veterans. It is where all five military branches are represented and where our veterans march and carry our American and P.O.W. flags as well as each of our Armed Forces flags and two rifles to “protect the Colors” as explained in Wikipedia.
As awesome as the parade always is and in particular when being led by our veterans, this year it was even more special and different. This year…two of the gentlemen who carried a flag and a rifle were each in their 80’s…this year…a former U. S. Coast Guard father being Gary Kierney (Hatteras Island) and his 18 year old son Noah Kierney who currently serving in the U. S. Army, marched side by side; a husband and wife Frank and Lynda Hester both retirees of the U. S. Coast Guard also marched along with the other very special servicemen. Members of the Marine Corp League marched too and veterans who rode in the Parade included a respected member of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, Mr. Jack Shea of Kitty Hawk.
This year…a special contrast to the Parade stood out to me. It was the reminder of how faith in our nation; unselfish sacrifice; love of country and a will to protect and serve has spanned the decades. One of…if not the oldest veterans in the Parade and a former member of the U. S. Coast Guard was Mr. Charles L. Wescott age 96 (turning 97 in September) of Wanchese, N. C. At the other end of the spectrum, the youngest participant Noah, an 18 year old active duty U. S. Army and member of the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N. C. and also a recent graduate of paratrooper school at Fort Benning, GA. Both men, one who has tasted and embraced the seasons of service and one full of hope, determination and courage…so different, yet so much the same…each a reflection of the other there together doing what veterans do…demonstrated American pride.
‘Mr. Charles’ as I call him is lovingly cared for by his daughter Mary Wescott a former classmate and fellow graduate of mine from Manteo High School 1968. Mary is just as I remember her from school all those years ago; smart ‘as a whip’ and devoted to her priorities…that most definitely being her Daddy. Every older parent should be so fortunate as to have family devoted to help, protect and love them…Mary? A prime example of that.
Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege to see ‘Mr. Charles’ (& Mary) at our annual ‘SALUTE to VETERANS’ program that we host each November at Manteo First Assembly. Each time I greet them, he comes into the sanctuary looking as ‘spiffy’ as ever appreciative and eager to enjoy a program that celebrates veterans of all ages and all eras.
In conversing with Mary recently, I’ve come to appreciate even more her Dad’s service to our country from November 1940 through October 1945. In her own words, “He deserves so much because he went through a lot while down in those engine rooms, never knowing when a German torpedo would hit his boat and be blown up”. Though Mary said her Daddy rarely talks about it, he sometimes “verbalizes some horrible memories”. Mary is proud of her Dad’s service explaining that he “voluntarily enlisted in the U. S. Coast Guard prior to the declaration of WWII” and that during his tenure he served as 2nd Motor Machinist Mate”. Further, she explained that “after WWII ended, (he) served in the capacity of Chief Engineer on various U. S. Coast Guard boats, which included a Fire Boat that fought fires at the Harbor of Galveston, Texas, Navigation Boat and a U. S. Coast Guard Yacht” and that he “was Honorably Discharged after WWII ended”.
In addition, she shared that “During WWII (he) served primarily on U. S. Coast Guard Nike, a sub-chaser, involved in many heavy military actions defending the U. S. coast from German submarines in the areas located from the North Atlantic to Gulf of Mexico coasts”. “One night”, she said, “he climbed from the engine room up to the Nike’s deck to get a breath of fresh air and immediately saw the light from a lighthouse. During the war, the Coast Guardsmen were not informed of their locations, but (he) knew the pattern of blinking light he was seeing and it was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse”. At that moment “It really made him homesick” she said. Imagine that…being so close yet so far from the home he loved.
I love ‘Mr. Charles’ and Mary too. I thank the good Lord for fathers who inspire their children to care for their parents as long as they’re able and privileged. It goes without saying, that days, hours and minutes are precious when you’re in the company of someone you love. ‘Mr. Charles’ memories encompass no doubt a host of emotions but let me assure you that this gentleman who exemplifies sincere pride in our country…the country that he and all our veterans serve…is a true American hero.
And…speaking of that special parent/child relationship…Gary and Noah…another prime example. When Gary told me last week that his son was coming home to walk beside him in the Parade, I could hear the pride in his voice. It was as clear as a bell that he couldn’t wait to pick him up, bring him home and show him off. As the Dad, Gary is older of course but I had to wonder…who looks up to the other one more? He loves Noah and he’s extremely proud of his patriotism and accomplishment. He shared with me that last week when Noah prepared to visit the kids at Cape Hatteras Elementary School he had polished his “jump boots” until they looked like “black glass”. The admiration one to another between this father and son is undeniable and while Noah may not have realized it, everyone was proud that he cared enough to make the drive home to be a part of this parade and march beside his Dad. Young men like Noah are heroes…they are brave and robust and eager to do an outstanding job for their country. In this day and time especially, Noah and all young men and women who join our Armed Forces today earn and deserve ultimate respect.
Yes, the Parade was a huge undertaking as usual and many thanks are due to Mike Kelly, his right hand Mary Ann Newman and all of his staff who worked diligently to put it together. And this year especially with the biggest show of veterans to date numbering in the 40’s…it was an especially memorable day for those who served. Also…special thanks is due to Gary Kierney who took personal interest to reach out to Hatteras Island vets encouraging them not only to participate but who helped arrange transportation to and from Hatteras Island. My sweetie pie Billy, David and Jerry (you know who you are) thank you for making special arrangements with other kind people (both veterans and non veterans alike) who jumped in, built benches and side rails in trailers in order to show our deserving veterans off…THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!! What all of you did touched the hearts and spirit of the veterans who took part and the public too.
Thank you to the Blue Star Mothers of America and every other organization which have honored our vets in past parades and events. Moving forward and with such re-newed veteran interest…every effort will be made to recruit and accommodate as many Dare County veterans as possible who would like to walk in or ride on future floats and parades everywhere across the Outer Banks.
And remember veterans…there is a newly re-activated V.F.W. Post 10950 Outer Banks; American Legion Fort Raleigh Post 26 and The Marine Corps League Outer Banks Detachment #1264 that you should consider joining or transferring your membership to as soon as possible! Keep posted on veteran events through The Coastland Times newspaper column “GIG LINE” each Sunday. In the meantime, be happy, be safe and be proud. You (we) ALL have so much to be proud of!
God bless you all…love and honor our vets and pray for the safety of all our troops who are deployed as well as their families here at home until they are able to embrace each other once again. If we can help or if you have a question, please me (252) 202-2058 or our Dare County Veteran Service Officer Rhonda Creef at (252) 475-5604 to schedule a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday appointment to see what benefits or help you may qualify for. And as usual…stay tuned!