PILOT MOUNTAIN — It has been well more than 50 years since Pilot Mountain resident Otis Chilton served in the military. But when Dan Hawk learned that Chilton had served his country in three branches of the United States Armed Forces, Hawk knew that it wasn’t too late to say “thank you.”
Hawk became friends with Chilton, now 87, after meeting him in downtown Pilot Mountain and has since enjoyed regular conversations. For Hawk, a member of the Ohio-based Thank You Foundation, Chilton’s story of having served stints in the Army, Navy and Air Force was impressive enough to deserve recognition.
The stated mission of the Thank You Foundation is to show appreciation and express gratitude for members of the U.S. Military both past and present. As one of its numerous programs and services for veterans and their families, the group makes available Certificates of Appreciation to recognize both veterans and active duty personnel. As a Thank You Foundation member, Hawk was in an ideal position to pursue recognition for his friend.
Chilton’s military service began at the age of 17 with a short stint in the Army. With a young man’s eye for travel and adventure, Chilton joined as war rumors were already beginning to circulate. He remembers with a smile that it was at his mother’s insistence that he chose not to re-enlist and came home. He also remembers being told by a commanding officer that the country would soon be at war.
Those words proved to be accurate when the Japanese navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Chilton later went on to join the Navy and served for three-and-a-half years, extending beyond the war’s end. During the heart of World War II, Chilton saw brief stints in both Panama and the Pacific and as well as a short period off the coast of Japan just after the war’s end.
Chilton returned home after completing his term of duty, but he still was drawn to military life. He soon joined the Air Force, where he spent another three years of service. But any thoughts of a military career, he remembers with a smile, ended when he met the woman who would be his wife, Mary Lee Truelove.
After the Air Force, Chilton and his wife established their own home in Pilot Mountain, where his family had lived since his youth. The couple remained here, raising a family, until Mary Lee Truelove Chilton passed away.
Upon learning of Chilton’s story, Hawk approached a relative who works with the Thank You Foundation and was able to obtain a Certificate of Appreciation recognizing Chilton’s service to his country. Without fanfare, Hawk presented the framed certificate to Chilton on Main Street last Monday.
“I believe he should be recognized and told ‘thank you,’” Hawk explained. “I don’t believe there are many today who would be willing to do what he did.”