More than 70 years ago, Walter Ervin Cole left the town’s mill community for the Army, to fight in World War II.
Like so many others, Cole, born in 1921, never made it home. In the winter of 1945, he died somewhere between France and Germany.
When news of Cole’s death reached Wake Forest by telegram several weeks later, his wife, Louise, was left with two small children – a 2-year-old daughter and an 8-month-old son.
But the children grew up with their father’s photograph hanging on the wall and hearing their family sing his favorite songs or recall the funny things he wrote home in letters while serving.
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Eventually, the local American Legion post was named in Cole’s honor.
“His character brought pride to his family and to his community of Wake Forest,” said Cole’s niece, Betty Mabry Evans.
Now, under the town’s new memorial flag-raising program for local veterans, Cole’s story will be preserved for an even wider community.
On Monday, Junior ROTC cadets from Wake Forest High School raised the U.S. flag and the Army flag at town hall in memory of Cole after a short ceremony recognizing his life and sacrifice.
“This is certainly a good thing, not only for my dad but for all the others,” said his son Walter Cole, now 70.
Walter Cole said he could have spent his whole life wondering about the what-ifs of his father’s death but decided instead to focus on honoring his memory as best he could.
Wake Forest officials plan to hold a flag-raising ceremony each month, modeled after programs in Roanoke Rapids and Tarboro. In Tarboro, the community has honored more than 130 veterans in monthly ceremonies that began in 2002.
Wake Forest spokesman Bill Crabtree said he was inspired to bring the ceremony to Wake Forest after attending a flag-raising in Tarboro.
“It’s just an awesome way to honor the sacrifices of not only the veterans but their families as well,” he said.
Evans remembers how Cole’s brother Marlon would sing “In the Garden,” whenever he could, at Glen Royal Baptist Church or Hillside Nursing Home, always evoking his brother’s name before he did.
The reason to sing a song or raise a flag is simple enough, Evans said.
“Why do we remember? So we won’t forget,” she said.
A committee made up of members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8466, American Legion Post 187, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 187, the Wake Forest Purple Heart Foundation and the Marine Corps League will help coordinate the ceremonies.
The next flag-raising ceremony will be Nov. 3 and honor Benny Jackson, a Vietnam War veteran.