Between the ladders of the fire trucks, what was maybe the world’s largest welcome home greeting was stretched Tuesday afternoon atop the Patriot Leonard A. Farrington Memorial Bridge that spans Interstate 77 on Sutton Road just north of the Catawba River in Fort Mill.
The greeting had no words. It needed none. It was a 30 foot by 50 foot American flag – for D-Day veterans.
York County knows how to thank its veterans.
“These veterans saved the darn world, is what they did,” said Sam Lesslie, a veteran himself who is chief of the Riverview Volunteer Fire Department in Fort Mill. “It is an honor to be out here today to welcome these men home.”
The flag donated for use by the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department was for the busload of South Carolina D-Day veterans who returned Tuesday from last week’s 70th anniversary events in France. As the bus passed underneath the Sutton Road bridge, the bus horn blew and the firefighters from Riverview and Fort Mill departments stood on those trucks, and on that bridge, and saluted.
“These men who just passed under this bridge in that bus deserve the gratitude and thanks of all of us, and to be out here to welcome them back to South Carolina is our way of showing that gratitude and thanks,” said Jeffrey Hooper, chief of the Fort Mill Fire Department.
More than 500 American veterans attended the ceremonies Friday on the D-Day anniversary in Normandy, including two from Rock Hill and one from Chester.
Charles “Floyd” Hailey Jr.: Hailey, a Rock Hill native, was 16 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to the LST-315 for the Normandy Invasion. Floyd’s boat made six trips between France and England during the invasion transporting supplies from the ship to the beach. He also helped return wounded men to the ship.
Joseph Jackson: Jackson was born in Chester on Nov. 29, 1925, and spent much of his boyhood in Pelzer. He was drafted into the Navy on Feb. 25, 1944, and was stationed aboard the destroyer USS Davis as a boatswain’s mate. His ship shelled Omaha beach on D-Day. He lives in Newberry.
Theron “Ted” Teagle: Teagle was born March 19, 1928, in Cordele, Ga., and grew up in Rock Hill. He joined the Navy at 15 and served on a destroyer escort in the Atlantic and on a destroyer in the Pacific. During D-Day, his ship swept the west coast of France for submarines. He lives in Columbia.
York County soldiers Ernest “Sonny” Carroll Jr. and James Freddie Bechtler died in the D-Day invasion in 1944.
The bridge is the very same one that the late, great, Leonard Farrington of Rock Hill stood atop each year on Sept. 11 to wave his American flag to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Included in that list of THE dead were 343 firefighters just like the ones on the bridge Tuesday.
Farrington’s flag waving from that bridge, documented in The Herald, received national acclaim and spawned other groups to wave flags from York County bridges on Sept. 11. Farrington, a Navy veteran of World War II who served five years after rushing out of a theater to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attacks, died in 2012. Last year, the S.C. Legislature voted unanimously to name the bridge in his honor.
Farrington’s patriotism was not political or ideological. A great man who had no use for politicians of any party, he waved that American flag on that bridge because Americans don’t run scared from a righteous fight.
“What a wonderful tribute to veterans of World War II – just like Len was,” said Betty Farrington, Leonard Farrington’s widow. “He is up there right now waving his flag along with them.”
Before he died, Leonard Farrington waved that flag for those who died from terrorism and tyranny. Tuesday, cars and trucks on Interstate 77 honked at that great big flag. Some stopped to take pictures. A few saluted from car windows.
Those firefighters, many of them volunteers just like most World War II veterans, held that American flag that honored the men who fought terrorism and tyranny, and like Leonard Farrington never backed down from a fight.
“Some great place, America,” said Riverview Fire Chief Sam Lesslie.