The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Not many people can say that they achieved their life’s ambition at the age of 17, but Ray Cooley can.
That was how old he was when the U.S. Navy issued a set of uniforms to him. He had waited for that day since he was just a little kid, playing dress-up in the sailor suit he had worn since World War II. His father and brother had served in the Navy before him, and he knew he was next.
“Why would I want to do anything else?” he said.
Cooley, 72, served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1966. His first stint was on an aircraft carrier before he moved into the subterranean world of the submarine at the urging of his brother. And he stayed there for the rest of his service to his country.
But it was in Key West, Fla., when Cooley met the woman who would soon become his wife. He had applied for a transfer to Corpus Christi to get out of the submarine for a spell, but his request was denied. Cooley said that was not surprising though, for requests were regularly declined.
It just so happened that Stormy Cooley was visiting a friend who lived in Key West at the same time Ray Cooley was on the island. She had just graduated from college when she met her “old, salty submarine sailor,” she said.
Once the Cooleys, who live in Groves, were married, Ray Cooley left the Navy. He liked some of the jobs he held after that — construction worker, police officer — but nothing ever fulfilled him quite the way serving his country did. He went to work as a merchant seaman for a while and ended up traveling more than he had with the Navy, he said.
As he has gotten older, Cooley has come to realize how important Veterans Day is, he said. That is why the Cooleys attended the Veterans Day service at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park Monday afternoon to honor Ray Cooley’s and every other veteran’s service to the country.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4820 In Port Neches held the service to belatedly celebrate Veterans Day and the veterans who are still alive, said William P. Wells, chairman of the park.
The Veterans Day service included a firing of a cannon that emitted clouds of thick, swirling smoke and a moment of silence to honor the missing in action, the deceased and the prisoners of war.
Capt. Jerry Kelley was the guest speaker at the veterans service. Kelley served during the Vietnam War and offered some insight into what it was like to be a part of that controversial conflict in his speech.
“You could not believe how bad it was,” he said. “When I came home, I wasn’t ready for the reception I got.”
People spat on his uniform. They called him a “baby killer.” And Kelley had been willing to sacrifice his life to fly across an ocean or two to fight for those people’s rights to express their beliefs without persecution.
“We fight for that right,” he said to the crowd of veterans.
Kelley said he expected the reception for the troops returning home from the mountains and sands of Afghanistan to be worse, for no jobs, no American prosperity would be waiting for them. This government owes each and every veteran who has served, he said.
For the first time, the VFW Post 4820 presented an award to the military branch that had the most veterans in attendance Monday. Out of the Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force, the Army had the most veterans present at the service. The James E. White Present and Accounted For Award was presented to the Army veterans and would be awarded yearly, Wells said.
It was 93 years ago when the United States first celebrated what is now Veterans Day. The first World War had been over for more than a year, and Nov. 11 had been established as a holiday to mark that milestone.
The armistice that ended the World War I fighting between the Allies and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, or Nov. 11, 1918. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that date as Armistice Day in 1919, and Congress changed the name to “Veterans Day” in 1954 in order to honor all American veterans of all wars.