War hero honored by his church

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

By Billy Bruce | For The Tribune

In the sixty-six years since former POW/MIA Bill Washburn returned to Ironton from the captivity of the WWII battlefields of Western Europe, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient has never considered his wartime achievements as worthy of recognition.

He balks when others praise him for his service to the USA. He assumes an almost shameful disposition when recognized, publicly or privately, for the sacrifices he made to ensure our freedom at home.

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But, despite his humbleness and ensuing embarrassment over what he considers undue praise, the members of Central Christian Church felt that Washburn, a 53-year CCC member and former deacon in the church, was worthy of recognition this past Veterans Day.

And many others in the community, young and old, as well as CCC leaders from the past, showed up at the special service to pay their respects, not only to Washburn, but to all Lawrence County veterans who have selflessly placed their lives on the line to preserve our way of life.

In a house that continuously trumpets the glorious sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all mankind, the sacrifices of mere mortals who fought for peace in our nation was also on display.

Olivia Houser, whose father, Marvin Houser, is serving in Afghanistan, opened the ceremony with pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Holy Bible. Fellow teenager Alexandra Billups hit the high notes of the Star Spangled Banner without a glitch.

Former CCC pastor Glenn Wheeler, who led the church on a 1975 march from its old digs on Quincy Street to its current dwelling adjacent to Ironton High School, spoke of sacrifices, and of longtime pal Washburn, with the same love, humor, and kindness that undoubtedly contributed to Wheeler’s nickname, “Smiley,” which was how he was known all those years ago by many of the now forty-something-year-old adults in attendance who were members of his congregation as children.

Former youth pastor and associate minister Myron Williams travelled back to Ironton from his home in Lexington, Ky, to close the ceremony with a poignant message of Christ-centered hope and sacrifice, along with his cache of memories from his ‘Seventies tenure at CCC, while also noting that Nov. 11 marked the 144 year anniversary of the church’s founding.

In between, Michael Reeves sang a version of God Bless America worthy of acclaim on any stage. Having Reeves, a cancer survivor, sing such a beautiful tribute to our nation served as a reminder that the Lord is involved even in the wars that do not take place on a battle field.

Sally Arden sang a version of God Bless the USA that quickly compelled the entire congregation to jump to its feet.

Boy Scout Troop 106 handled the colors with professionalism and dedication, compelling Wheeler to comment, “In all my years of speaking at Veterans Day ceremonies, and having Boy Scouts handle the colors, this group was the most disciplined I’ve ever seen.”

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship offered up words of thankfulness to Bill Washburn, recognizing him as an American hero before handing him a key to the city, at which point Wheeler playfully prodded from the podium, “Mayor, does that exempt him from paying taxes?”

Afterward, Bill Washburn took his key to the city of Ironton, along with other plaques he was presented during the ceremony, and joined the many attendees in the church gymnasium for a feast created and served by multiple behind-the-scenes workers.

Although he was very appreciative for the ceremony, the 86-year-old Washburn still struggled to grasp the attention his church showered upon him.

“I don’t deserve it,” he said of the recently acquired plaques his son David has since displayed alongside the many lifetime achievements posted on the walls of his Buckhorn Street home. “But I can’t give them back. It wouldn’t look right.”

Praising himself is definitely not something Bill Washburn is accustomed to doing.

But, as the recent ceremony conducted by the Bible believers at CCC can attest, others are more than willing to do it for him.