Veterans Shine Light On Early American Military History

Nov 11, 2015

Retired Merchant Marine captain Paul Washburn sits on top of a Merchant Marine life boat before Wednesday's Veterans Day parade downtown in Jacksonville. He started sailing in WWII.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Veterans Day in Jacksonville means a parade downtown with hundreds of people who have served their country.

A few Jacksonville veterans shined a light back to early days of America's military history.

Before Tuesday's parade participants gathered outside of the Jaguars' stadium. A medium-sized gray boat was sitting on wheels. Thomas Suneson with the St. Johns Merchant Marine veterans chapter says it's a merchant marine life boat.


A banner on the side of this boat reads "760 merchant ships sunk in WWII, one in every 26 seamen killed."

A banner on the side of this boat reads "760 merchant ships sunk in WWII, one in every 26 seamen killed."
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Retired Merchant Marine captain Paul Washburn was sitting on top of the boat. He says he sailed for more than 50 years, starting in WWII.

"I sailed everywhere but Australia and New Zealand," he said.

And he says he's lucky to have never had to use a lifeboat like the one he was sitting on, but he remembers a close call during Vietnam.

"I was in the radio shack," Washburn said "I was looking out the port hole standing there, and the bullet hit right below the port hole. Missed me about a foot because they used to shoot at the ships on the way to Saigon."

A few yards away, Ronald Parks is wearing a Confederate Civil War uniform. He's standing in front a roughly 20-foot replica he made of the H.L. Hunley Confederate submarine. He has pieces all around Jacksonville — a canon on Old St. Augustine Road and cemetery art on the west side.

A replica of the Confederate battleship H.L. Hunley was built by Ronald Parks, a Confederate Civil War re-enactor.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

"Now I'm building the Arizona Battleship which will be here next year," Parks said. "I'm shooting for the Guinness Book of World Records for a 45 foot steel model of the battleship."

He says he learned his craft in the Army.

Parks is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, and he's also black. He says people shouldn't forget history.

"We must keep our heritage," Parks said. "Even if some people consider it wrong, we must keep our heritage. We must keep our history."

And he helps pass that history along as a re-enactor who frequently visits schools.

Ronald Parks (right) and fellow Confederate re-enactor stand in Confederate uniforms before Wednesday's Veterans Day parade.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Ronald Parks shows photos of other replica pieces he's made. He says he learned is craft in the Army.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News