As the annual master of ceremonies for Wellington’s Memorial Day celebration, Gil Cole is accustomed to honoring other veterans.
This year, it’s finally his turn to receive the same treatment.
Cole, a member of Wellington’s VFW Post 6941 and American Legion Post 8, who’s also served as commander of both organizations, was a bit hesitant to accept the recognition.
“Over the years they’ve tried to do this and I’ve always said no,” said Cole. “I tell them my name is already on the program. I don’t need further recognition calling me the honoree. The issue was more or less dropped as far as I knew, but I guess it’s come up again. It will be an honor to accept it. There’s other people who deserve it just as much as me and more, though.”
Linda Navarre said she and fellow village Memorial Day committee members weren’t going to take no for an answer this time.
“We kind of set this up on the side without him knowing too much about it,” she said. “He finally told us to do what we wanted to do. Gil will now be both the emcee and honoree. He’s fought us on doing this for a long time, but he’s a good man and he’s done so much for veterans. He deserves this. He has for a long time.”
Cole began helping with Wellington’s Memorial Day ceremony in 1988 as an assistant to James Feron and took over as chairman of the Memorial Day committee in 1995 when Feron passed away.
Cole was a military police officer in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, has held the state office of sergeant-at-arms, and sits on the national committee of the American Legion.
“I just enjoy doing what I do,” he said. “The veterans deserve it. They deserve even more than I can do. Benefits are taken away every year and it hurts all of us. The people making these decisions aren’t veterans. They’re just business people who sit behind a desk for a paycheck. If you’re a veteran, a waiting period to see a doctor can last nine months or over a year. That’s just not right.”
Despite so many years of speaking in front of crowds in Wellington and all over the state, Cole said the thought of a public speech, especially one where he’s the focus of attention, is a bit scary.
“When I was supposed to talk in front of my classes in school, I’d take the F and not do it,” he said. “I didn’t care. This is my 34th year getting up at that gazebo in Wellington. I’m always uptight the first few minutes but it goes away after a little bit.”
Village Memorial Day festivities will start at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 29 at Howk Memorial Park.
“I’m glad I found out I was the honoree or I would’ve been at a serious loss for words,” Cole said. “Now I’ll have a chance to think about it. I’m thankful the committee and the public think enough of me to make this decision. What I do for veterans is a privilege and it never seems like work.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.