Thursday, November 11, 2010
“I just wanted a way to honor our veterans that are still serving and who have served.”
George Ousley’s explanation for the inspiration to paint a giant American flag on the roof of his barn just outside Fulton on State Route HH was simple: He simply wanted to show support for his fellow veterans.
“I did my time and I thought this would be a way to honor people that have served,” he said.
Ousley himself did three tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy in 1966, ’67 and ’68 as a machinist.
“We served as a hospital ship. We took the Marines over — those Marines, they had it bad — and served as as a hospital ship when they got injured,” he recalled. “It was tough. I was 18, 19, 20 years old. When you’re 18, 19, 20 years old you’re just told to do something and you do it.”
Ousley described spending long stretches of time at sea — the longest being 70 days — without any sight of land.
“You’d lose track of what day it is, you just know what time it is,” he said. “You lived in a little compartment with bunk beds — four or five stacked in a row — with 70 guys in a compartment.”
Ousley said most of his days were spent down in the engine room where “120 degrees was a cool day.”
“If you had to go down in the engine room all day you’d take salt pills (to keep hydrated),” he said. “At the end of the day you could just knock the salt off of yourself.”
He said looking back on his time in the Navy, and particularly in Vietnam, two things really stand out to him four decades later.
“How damn hot it was down there, and when (the Marines) were being brought back in body bags,” Ousley said. “We had to take them down to the freezers — we called them reefers then.
“It was quite an experience. You see things you ought to not see at that age, but it was our duty and what we were supposed to do, so we did.”
Although not everything he experienced in the Navy was positive, the veteran said he was proud of his time in the service.
“It keeps the country free. Freedom ain’t free; somebody has to do it,” Ousley said, noting he joined the Navy after high school because “I knew I had to do something and the military was what I thought could give me what I was looking for. I learned a lot of discipline in the Navy.”
Both of Ousley’s sons, George and Gregory, followed him into the Navy, something he said he actively encouraged. His son George, or Jay as he was called by family and friends, was serving in the Navy when he lost his life at age 19.
“I thought it was good for them to go and get some discipline,” Ousley said. “I kind of second-guessed it after what happened (with George) but I’ve come to terms with it.
“They served, and they were proud of it, and I’m proud of them.”
Having become a successful businessman after his time in the Navy — he owns property throughout the area and started the Southwind Estates subdivision in Fulton — the flag on his barn is not the only way Ousley supports his fellow veterans.
“My wife, Gayleen, and I just made a sizable donation to Columbia College for veterans and they named the Ousley Family Veterans Services Center for us,” he said, noting they also plan to establish scholarships for veterans as well.
The lifetime member of VFW Post 280 in Columbia, Ousley said he was looking forward to Veterans’ Day today because “it’s a time to honor the veterans because it sure wasn’t that way when we got home.”
“To me, it’s all about the veterans,” Ousley said Wednesday afternoon, U.S. flag blazing in the background.
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