“I was just one of the lucky ones,” World War II Navy veteran Murphy Whisnant Jr., said. “So many others had a terrible time.”
The 89-year-old Charlotte resident was one of more than 100 military veterans who signed up to attend Union Elementary School’s third annual Veterans Breakfast on Friday.
Catered by Fatz in Lincolnton, the meal is now a yearly western Lincoln County staple for the school’s students and teachers and, of course, area veterans.
Decades after going to war, Whisnant, who donned a patriotic tie for the event, could still remember both the number of men on his warship, 99, and the length of the vessel, 187 feet.
The details of those life-changing three years remained vivid in his aging mind as he told his story.
His eyes lit up as he watched one of his great-granddaughters, a student at West Lincoln High School, sing the National Anthem to commence breakfast festivities and a second, younger granddaughter, who attends Union, read a special military poem.
Following high school, Whisnant said he secured a job building B-26 bombers with Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in Baltimore, Md. — now the site of Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum.
However, it wasn’t long before the draft took him far from home.
Still shocked by the large-scale numbers, he described how he was one of more than 16 million men who were either drafted or volunteered during the war.
Following training at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where he waited to be temporarily assigned to a Marine unit, the Naval hospital there experienced a severe outbreak of measles and mumps.
At the time, Whisnant said he was learning how to be what the Navy called a pharmacist’s mate or hospital corpsman.
He was soon transferred to Jacksonville, Fla., where he completed air, land and sea rescue for 19 months.
Following the war, Whisnant joined a minesweeper — a Naval warship designed to sweep the oceans for mines.
The ships would detonate them, Whisnant said, allowing commercial ships to pass safely through the waters.
His warship swept the Pacific Ocean for six months, particularly the area in and around Japan.
When asked about his dangerous responsibilities, he didn’t bat an eye or speak of his personal terror during those days. Instead, he offered a simple, honest answer.
“We had a job to do, and we did it,” Whisnant said. “That’s all I know.”
He received multiple awards for his service including the World War II Victory Medal and American Area Camp Metal.
Whisnant was one of many other Navy men who stood and placed a hand over their heart Friday as the school played each military branch’s celebrated theme song.
Derrick Propst, of Vale, stood during “The Marine’s Hymn,” also known as “From the Halls of Montezuma.”
He, too, noted how he entered the war at age 19, by choice, to travel the world and leave the confines of his Gaston County hometown.
Propst, who never went to war but served peacetime duties working on aviation support equipment, worked on mobile motor generators and the tugs that pulled around the aircraft, he said.
He believed that every young man should experience the military, or at least some form of boot camp.
“I would definitely recommend it,” Propst said.
His western Lincoln County neighbor and Marine veteran, Earl Bowden, also attended Friday’s breakfast.
“They seem to care about their vets here,” he said of Union Elementary staff.
Bowden spent 26 months of his seven-and-a-half-year military service in Vietnam, a place and time that he will never forget.
“I’m not going to Hell when I die,” he said, “because I’ve already been there.”
While Bowden admits that he has done “things that are wrong” during his life, he regrets nothing, noting instead that he learned from each choice he made.
The Georgia native moved to Lincoln County four years ago from Virginia, he said, and even though his grandchildren no longer attend Union, he still frequents the breakfast each year.
Bowden, Propst and Whisnant each smiled as they watched the entire teacher staff and students gather inside the gym to sing “This Land is Your Land” and other patriotic tunes for the crowd.
Perhaps the most exciting moment for the children was the introduction of Marine Chief Warrant Officer John Walsh, who works at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., and his newly-adopted dog, Sgt. Daisy, who spent six different deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing out bombs.
“She saved hundreds of lives,” Walsh told the children. “No one was hurt when Sgt. Daisy was around.”
Following the event, also attended by Superintendent Dr. Sherry Hoyle and other school system employees and board members, the crowd gathered outside around the flagpole for a three-shot rifle salute and the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.
Veteran’s Day breakfast — American Legion Post 30 will host its annual Veterans Day breakfast 8 a.m. at post headquarters, 1120 N. Aspen St. in Lincolnton. Legion members, veterans, National Guard members, active duty and reserves are all invited. Legion will host ceremonies following the 11 a.m. parade on the east side of the courthouse. For more information, call (704) 477-8829.
Veteran’s Day college event — The Student Veteran Association and The Student Government Association at Gaston College will host a ceremony to honor veterans from every military 10- 11 a.m. in the lobby of the main building at the Lincoln Campus, 511 S. Aspen St. in Lincolnton. For more information, contact Darren Stewart at (704) 922-6229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veteran’s Day Parade — The Downtown Development Association (DDA) will host a Veterans Day Parade 11 a.m. in downtown Lincolnton. Lineup start 9 a.m. on E. Water St. For more information, call (704) 736-8915.
Veteran’s school event — G.E. Massey Elementary School, 130 Newbold St. in Lincolnton, will host a Veterans Day celebration 9 a.m. at the flagpole. The Lincolnton High School chorus and elementary students will perform songs, and a number of community veterans will be in attendance.