The first truck in the first Chester Veterans Day parade in 74 years pulled out carrying a Marine Corps combat veteran from the Vietnam War named Carlton Carter.
Carter grew up on Ashford Street in Chester, a then-segregated mill town. He became a great success. A proud man, Carlton Carter, the grand marshal of the parade, pointed at the picture on the side of the truck.
The picture showed a smiling face of a boy just like him from Ashford Street with dreams in his eyes.
“I ride with a hero,” Carter said. “This young man here. This is what America and being courageous is all about.”
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The boy in the picture is La’Darious Wylie, and he died two weeks ago at age 11 after saving his sister. La’Darious rushed and pushed his sister, just 7 years old, out of the path of an oncoming car in a hit and run at the school bus stop near his home on Ashford Street. The sister sprawled to safety but La’Darious did not escape. The car hit him and he died in a Charlotte hospital. His heroic mother had his organs donated to three other children.
“He lived in a house four doors down from where I was raised,” Carter said. “That little boy right there is all of us.”
La’Darious Wylie, said Carlton Carter, is every little boy who dreams and tries and cares, and in the flash of an instant, when action is either done or not, a life is saved or not saved, La’Darious Wylie gave his own life so his sister would live.
“He died a hero,” said Carlton Carter, who spent three years in Vietnam and who knows that real heroes are as rare as gems. “I am so proud to have his picture here today with me.”
The parade, organized by the Joshua Lodge civic group, had 51 entries in the first year Chester has honored its veterans with a parade since World War II. It had a single float and several trucks, trailers, carts and cars. It had ROTC and a football team. A golf cart and a fire truck. Never has there been a greater parade in its simple salutes.
Many of the entries had veterans in them, with signs that said the veteran was loved and respected.
The crowd clapped for them all.
This is a city of about 5,000 people in a county of 33,000. Other parades are bigger by far. Chester is a small place with a huge heart. Chester knows how to honor heroes. A flag was given by the veterans who organized the annual service for Veterans Day to the family of Logan Tinsley, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 and is the lone Chester resident to die in combat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought two wars.
wanted La’Darious Wylie, known now across America for heroism, front and center in the parade. Everybody agreed and the crowd knew this was a special day.
The crowd clapped for a hit-and-run victim most had never met. They cheered La’Darious Wylie’s picture.
“That’s our hero!” a lady called out as the truck rolled past.
Chick Anderson, adjutant of the American Legion post, who drove six real war heroes in his truck in the parade, said La’Darious Wylie is no less a hero.
“What a young man,” Anderson said.
Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart had a picture of praying hands with angel wings on his parade truck with the letters “LW.” Stuart is a veteran – Air Force. But he said the parade was not about him
“A real-life hero got those wings,” said Stuart.
A retired solider who spent 40 years and two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan named Christopher Coleman was in the parade. He attended the pre-parade service. He wore his uniform with such pride because he wore the combat uniform among men and women who lived and died.
He spoke of La’Darious Wylie and said, “That young boy is a real hero.”
La’Darious Wylie was a cousin to Malik Williams, 16, and twins Cayman and Carden Williams, 17 years old. The teens all attend Chester High School where they are top students and athletes. Prestigious Duke University wants Malik. Other top colleges want the twins for brawn and brains. People know them in Chester, congratulate them in Chester, encourage them in Chester, call them great in Chester.
But Wednesday in the parade they talked only of their cousin who died in Chester.
“He’s the real hero, La’Darious,” Caymen Williams said. “He is the one who is great. He saved his sister. We are so proud.”
The parade did not take long Wednesday. But the parade gave rightful due to Chester veterans and named one kid as honorary grand marshal.
“He gave his life so that someone else would live,” said Carlton Carter, the grand marshal. Carter pointed again at the picture of La’Darious and said: “To ride with him – it is an honor.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065