Memorial Day is always a special day of remembrance. I always enjoy seeing the older veterans pridefully wearing their
uniforms for the ceremonies on the Bruce and Calhoun City squares. I always think of my grandfathers – the late Gordon Ferguson of Utica
and G.L. McNeece of Raymond – who are both veterans of World War II. I think of my dad’s service in Vietnam, and most of his friends’ as well.
Memorial Day is always a special day of remembrance.
I always enjoy seeing the older veterans pridefully wearing their uniforms for the ceremonies on the Bruce and Calhoun City squares.
I always think of my grandfathers – the late Gordon Ferguson of Utica and G.L. McNeece of Raymond – who are both veterans of World War II.
I think of my dad’s service in Vietnam, and most of his friends’ as well.
This year I found myself thinking of Frankie West of Slate Springs. Frankie, a former mayor and longtime alderman and businessman in Slate Springs, died April 22 at his home at the age of 63.
Frankie owned and operated the small engine repair shop on Hwy. 9 in the middle of Slate Springs.
I stopped by the shop several times over the years to get information, more often just hoping to pull one of Frankie’s great stories out of him.
A month prior to his death, Frankie agreed to let me write the feature story about him I had always been wanting to do for the paper.
Frankie, a double Purple Heart recipient, earned the first when leading a patrol in dangerous territory.
The patrol was attempting to get off somewhere into the jungle so they could hide and bed down. Frankie was the point-man. They were headed up a nearby hill when they came under fire. They called in an artillery strike, but one of the shells fell a little short.
“Our interpreter had his leg cut off and I took some shrapnel in the jaw,” Frankie said.
His jaw was broken.
“The jungle was so dense you couldn’t see sunshine,” Frankie said. “The helicopters couldn’t get down to get us because there was nowhere to land. They had to drop stretchers down on cables and winch us up to get us out of there.”
Several months later Frankie was sent right back to the fight. He earned his second Purple Heart after a more violent injury. Frankie lost both his legs in Vietnam after stepping on a land mine.
That sent him home for an exhaustive recovery and rehabilitation effort. But in all his stories Frankie never suggested any feelings of sorrow for himself. The hardest thing for him to talk about was going to the VA and seeing the many veterans in far worse shape than him.
Even on artificial legs, Frankie was a big, burly man who “told it like it was.”
I remember walking into the shop once wearing a pink dress shirt and in no uncertain terms Frankie let me know he would have picked a different color.
Frankie loved to eat and he loved to smoke, despite many efforts to curtail both.
He was a joyful man who loved life to the fullest. He didn’t consider himself handicapped, choosing to appreciate all he had rather than focus on what he lost in the war.
Speaking of his time in the war, Frankie said he was “Unlucky, But Lucky.” That was the headline I chose for Frankie’s story.
I feel lucky for having the handful of conversations with him I did. We should all feel lucky for his military service. We should all feel lucky for the military service of all veterans. That’s what Memorial Day is all about.
You may email Joel McNeece at email@example.com