Two local Vets honored here, events

Two local Vets honored here, events

Events on Wednesday:

Key West’s parade ends at Bayview Park

A processional including hundreds of people — from high school marching bands to current and retired military personnel — will march in the Key West Veterans Day Parade on Wednesday, Nov. 11 which starts at 4 p.m.

The parade will begin at the corner of Eaton and Duval streets, proceeding southeast down Duval Street, turning north (left) on Truman Avenue, past the judges’ table on Windsor Lane and ending at the Bayview Park at the edge of Truman Avenue and Jose Marti Drive. There will be a detour for all southbound traffic from N. Roosevelt Boulevard to Eisenhower Drive.

At the conclusion of the parade, everyone is invited to take part in a patriotic gala.

Memorial unveiled in Key West

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the new Key West Vietnam Living Memorial will be dedicated at 11 a.m. at Bayview Park. The event includes remarks by Master of Ceremony Jerry Hughes, presentation of the colors by Boy Scout Troop 578, an invocation and guest speakers Mayor Craig Cates, Ed Knight and USN Master Chief, retired, James F. King. They Key West Boys and Girls Club will read the names on the memorial.

Key Largo screens film about patriots

The Sonny Andrews Bicentennial American Legion Post 333 will show “Honoring a Commitment – the PFC Gordon Story” on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Key Largo Lion’s Club, MM 99.5 behind Capitol Bank. The public is invited and admission is free.

This very recently completed (not publicly available) documentary explores the WWII & subsequent POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing in action) issues in a way that is sure to tug at the heartstrings and provide inspiration. “Patriots in Paradise” T-shirts will be for sale and free popcorn, wine or beer is available for a small donation. For more information about the film, visit www.heritage.org.

 

Author recognizes ‘citizen solider’ Jerry Hughes

By James King

If you wanted to have lunch with a citizen soldier and George Washington wasn’t here, where would you look to find someone to take his place? I had no trouble finding a stand in for George, arguably our country’s best-known citizen soldier. I was on assignment from the editor of the Keys Weekly to write a column featuring the personal story of a local veteran. My membership in the American Legion and VFW provided a list of candidates; the first one I asked accepted.

The dining room of the VFW Post 3911 was a comfortable venue as we were both life members. We knew each other casually as were in the same loop of military service organizations found in Key West. The man sitting opposite me as we talked looked his age, 60 something, neatly trimmed gray beard and looking like he could still hump a rucksack (at least for a while).

He described how upon graduation from Providence College (Rhode Island), with four years of ROTC, he answered his country’s call. He accepted an Army commission and after training as an infantry officer, he earned the right to wear the Special Forces Green Beret and Airborne jump wings.

Motivated and determined to be the best Army officer he could be, he joined the 196 Light Infantry Brigade deployed to Vietnam. For the edification of those not familiar with the term, light infantry is fast, mobile, unencumbered with non-essential accouterments, comfort items or support people; light infantry soldiers are the proverbial “tip of the spear.”

My subject did his year in country. (Yes, that’s what the theatre of military operations is called.) He had the courage to honor that commitment. He served at the rank of First Lieutenant; not a very high rank as ranks go. A first lieutenant won’t spend a lot of time in meetings giving advice and counsel to the guys planning strategies. A first lieutenant leads men into battle. This is what he does, he kills people and breaks things, he’s a shooter. If he didn’t exist, there would be no need for the rest of the military.

He did his duty well. Among his awards are the combat infantry badge and three Bronze Star medals.

For those who haven’t guessed, our citizen soldier is Jerry Hughes, a prime mover in the Key West Vietnam Living Memorial — he continues to serve. He put his life on hold to lead men into battle. Infantry soldiers are tough guys by definition and are not easily fooled when it comes to the leadership qualities of the officers appointed over them. If you wanted a picture of the “citizen soldier” for the dictionary, and you had a picture of first lieutenant Jerry Hughes, you need look no further. He answered the call, did his duty and continues his service to the community.

— James F. King is a retired Master Chief Petty Officer with the U.S. Navy. His email is [email protected]

Petek has literally done it all

Marathon resident is a former Air Force Pilot

By Sara Matthis

“I’d still be in the military if they would let me,” said retired Air Force Major Paul Petek of his 24 years of service. He flew C-124s, C-141s and the F-4 Phantoms. After his 20 years were up, he said he extended active duty for a two-year stint, then reapplied for another year. When he requested a fourth additional year of service they turned him down.
But that didn’t slow him down.

He went on to become a computer analyst and programmer, paramedic, dive master, dancer and reserve deputy.

Petek, 76, moved to South Florida after graduating high school in New York state. He had enough saved up for one semester at University of Miami, but had to drop out when he couldn’t get a job because he didn’t have a car. So, he headed over to the Air Force recruiter’s office.

“I was always more interested in space. I wanted to be an astronaut. But I had to settle for the Air Force,” he said with a grin.

He’s been stationed in Delaware, New Jersey, Thailand and Homestead.

When he signed on, his first years were spent flying cargo planes across the Northern Route to Alaska, Japan and Viet Nam with the 30th Military Airlift Squadron at the McGuire Air Force base. Later he would fly the C-141s.

“We flew over the ammunition and supplies and brought back body bags,” he said. “We made two or three trips a month for years.”

Once he was at the air force base in Da Nang when it was under rocket fire. Another time he was flying from Viet Nam to Okinawa and the plane took some small hits.

“We didn’t realize it until the next morning. The bullet holes were behind the pressure door. If it had been in front of the pressure door, we would have noticed,” he said with dry humor.

Hindsight is 20-20. Other than a few small mechanical mishaps while in the air, Petek always managed to land safely. That included all the training he received at Homestead Air Force Base to fly the F-4 Phantom. However, one week after he deployed to Thailand with the 435th Eagle Squadron, the war was all but over.

After leaving the Air Force, Petek said there was no question about what he would do next. He “had” to go into computers. He rose from a lowly data entry clerk to senior data base analyst at the New Jersey State Police and Department of Motor Vehicles. Then he retired (again) and moved to Marathon in 2000.

He became a rural postal carrier, then a dive master. At 69 years old, he started earning his certifications to become a firefighter/paramedic while volunteering for the Marathon Fire Rescue.

“His very first day of service was by my side, the day after Hurricane Wilma hit the Keys in 2005,” said Capt. Joe Forcine with Marathon Fire Rescue. Forcine said not only did Petek graduate at the top of the class, he also has two other distinguishing honors.

“To this day, he has the highest score in the state on the written portion of the paramedic test. And he was also the oldest graduating paramedic not only in the United States, but the world. A guy from Germany came along and broke the record, but still …”

Forcine said Petek is a perfectionist and would spend six to nine hours a day reading the paramedic manual to learn to become what is, in essence, a field physician. Now, Petek is a paid part-time paramedic and ambulance driver with Marathon Fire Rescue.

“He does more inter-facility patient transfers, as a part-timer, than all of our other employees combined,” Forcine said. “He earns hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city of Marathon, single-handedly.”

Besides his paramedic and driving duties, Petek is also an Auxiliary Deputy with the Monroe County Sheriffs Office. He provides backup to Deputy Tom Hill making traffic stops in the Tango 10 ­— an unmarked, black Dodge Charger, as well as others on regular ride alongs.

“We go out and educate aggressive drivers. I’m the deputy’s bodyguard,” Petek said.

With so much on his schedule, he’s had to eliminate two of his favorite hobbies — volunteering at the Dolphin Research Center and dancing and acting at Marathon Community Theatre. But he still has time for one his newest interests: becoming a Master Mason which he hopes to accomplish in a few months.

Is there anything that doesn’t interest Petek?

“I always say, ‘Boy, that sounds like a good idea!’ I get sucked into everything,” Petek said. “But so long as I’m productive and helpful and useful, I am going to keep going.”

 

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