A Memorial Day to Remember: Lt. Colonel Vance Houston Leaves Lasting Impact



Morgan Hall

The Ashland Beacon

   Every year, we come together to remember those who have served our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Often veterans’ families frequent our local veterans cemetery at North East Veterans Cemetery in Argillite to lay fresh flowers on the graves of their veterans that are laid to rest there.

   For many folks, Memorial Day is about family gatherings with cookouts and BBQ. In fact, we have one of the longest running Memorial Day parades just across the river in Ironton, Ohio. But for many people still mourning the loss of their loved ones, Memorial Day is about remembering their loved ones by speaking their name, telling old stories and pulling out photos from albums. 

   For weeks leading up to Memorial Day, bereavement flowers line the store shelves and people flock to find the arrangements to adorn their loved one’s graves. 

   It’s a somber experience visiting the Veterans Cemetery North East, as you see the uniform granite tombstones row on row, each decorated with an American flag laid by local volunteers. You might see some loose coins laying on top of the tombstones, given by fellow veterans, families and friends. This change is later collected and used for updates and help with burial costs for other veterans at the cemetery. If you didn’t already know what this loose change represents, we have the answers for you. A quarter indicates the person was with the deceased when he or she died. A dime indicates that this person served with the deceased in some capacity. A nickel means that the person trained with the deceased at bootcamp. Lastly, a penny means someone visited the gravesite. 

   Visiting the veteran’s cemetery reminds me to stop and pay my respects to a special veteran from Greenup County. I remember the first time I met Lieutenant Colonel Vance Houston; looking up at him, with his soft eyes and white hair. I was visiting Greenup United Methodist Church to hear a sermon delivered by my professor and Reverend, Dr. Deron Newman.

   Vance knew how to make people feel welcome, as he served the Greenup United Methodist Church in various capacities for more than 40 years. Over the years, we visited often and every time Houston made his way over to talk to us. In fact, he shared his wife Ella's potato salad recipe with me and it's one of my most cherished dishes.

   We enjoyed hearing his stories of flying in Marine One with President Kennedy.  He remembered John Jr. being a little boy. He had a wealth of historical knowledge and memories to share and we were all ears. 

   He served in the United States Marine Corps for 23 years. He was a pilot, flying both C-130’s and Helicopters. He did tours of duty in Okinawa, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He was a member of the Presidential Helicopter Squadron, HMX-1, flying Marine One for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

   After retiring from active duty, he accepted the JROTC Instructor position at Greenup County High School, where he served until 1988. While serving as the JROTC instructor, he helped rally the community in building the structure that houses the JROTC program, which still stands today. Since his retirement in 1988, he was very involved in the community and Christian Ministries including: Meals-on-Wheels, the Prison Ministry at the Federal Penitentiary in Summit, Leading Bible Studies in Greenup County Detention Center, and Gideons International.

   Houston was a decorated veteran and he genuinely enjoyed ministering to others. He spent many days at FCI Ashland, talking to the inmates and being a part of the prison ministry. My husband worked at FCI Ashland while Houston participated in the prison ministry and he was a witness to the difference that he made in people's lives.

   On March 1, 2018 Houston left this world a better place because he was a part of it. If you happen to stop by the Veterans Cemetery North East, stop and pay your respects to this wonderful man. We must keep his memory alive for the generations to come, as we owe him a debt of gratitude. His service didn't end once his military service ended, Houston had a heart for serving others wherever and whenever he could and that is something worth remembering.