Fort Mill Times

Tega Cay display showcases veterans’ service

A display at Tega Cay's Glennon Center honors the service of local veterans such as Henry Eldridge, who is shown in the photo receiving the Silver Star.
A display at Tega Cay's Glennon Center honors the service of local veterans such as Henry Eldridge, who is shown in the photo receiving the Silver Star. Special to The Fort Mill Times

A veteran’s pride in his country has taken shape in the form of a new display cabinet to honor his brothers in arms and their contributions and sacrifices to the United States.

Tega Cay resident Jess Ford’s latest creation is a display cabinet, commissioned by the Tega Cay Veterans Association.

“When veterans passed away there was memorabilia that was left behind and families said ‘What do we do with it?’” explained Tega Cay Veterans Association Vice Commander and City Councilman-elect David O’Neal.

That’s where the idea came to have a permanent display to showcase countless photos, medals and rarely found antiques donated by Tega Cay veterans and their families. The cabinet was placed on the lower level of the Glennon Center at the Tega Cay Golf Club. Half of the case’s display is permanent, the other half will be rotated as pieces become available.

For Ford, this project was a labor of pride. Ford enlisted in the United States Navy in 1957. During six years of service he was trained to use electronics and became a radioman in a seaplane. Now, 12 years retired from a career as an electrical engineer, he is the TCVA’s chaplain and has turned woodworking into his passion.

“It’s mind boggling,” Ford said. “The fact that I do these things and people like them is surprising to me.”

The case is made of five pieces, constructed entirely of red oak. It has low voltage, low heat LED lighting that was donated by Ford’s friend Jack Smith, whose company – Charlotte International Partners – also worked on the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The cabinet is an original design that came from Ford’s mind, many years ago. O’Neal said he can’t believe the work it took to get it to what it is now.

“When I went and saw it, it was literally slats of wood sitting on the floor,” O’Neal said.

Ford is almost entirely self taught, except for three periods of wood shop his senior year of high school in California. His plan was always to pick it up once he retired.

“While I was still working I’d purchase a decent tool and stick it in my garage,” Ford said.

He came to South Carolina after he sold his electronics company.

“I had a contract for three years with them to come out and get them started, and I stayed 23 years,” Ford said.

O’Neal, for one, is glad he did.

He served in the U.S. Army for 20 years and was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Now a retiree, one of his projects is focusing on keeping the cabinet filled with new and interesting items.

There is a 30-year-old photo of O’Neal and two other men as they prepared for a jump while stationed at Fort Bragg. One of the men in the photo also now lives in Tega Cay. The other, O’Neal said, is moving here as soon as possible. Also found in the cabinet is an American flag with 48 stars on it. It flew during the two World Wars and the Korean War. There is also a photo of longtime resident Henry Eldridge receiving the Silver Star, one of the highest honors given to military personnel.

But even with the few special items already inside the cabinet, O’Neal said he hopes to get even more for the public to see.

“We really need to get this display cabinet filled up, O’Neal said, “All the work we did to get this thing made and it stands here, it’s empty.”

The TCVA has about 50 members. Commander Charles Gross said with such an active association, he hopes filling the cabinet won’t be a problem. He said they work hard to represent veterans during major holidays throughout the year including Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

“It started as a coffee thing on Saturday mornings once a quarter, then they decided to make it an association and get a 501c3 tax exempt status,” Gross said.

Gross, who served in the United States Army during the Vietnam era from 1968-1971, was trained in counter intelligence. He moved to Tega Cay four years ago. He said he’s witnessed some really special moments during his time with the TCVA.

“We had people tear up at Memorial Day,” Gross said, “Even the speaker, Ralph Norman, our state representative, teared up.”

The display cabinet, which was dedicated in September, will now help tell the stories of veterans. Their history can be seen in a very tangible way. It’s a project Ford said he’s proud to have been a part of.

“I’m a very patriotic person,” Ford said, “To be asked to have done that was really great.

Katie Rutland:

Learn more

Everyone is invited to the Tega Cay Veterans Association Veterans Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at the Living Memorial Gardens, 120 Shoreline Parkway in Tega Cay.