Iraqi war veteran honored for service by hometown

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2005

An Iraqi War vet returned to the Camellia City recently for a brief visit with an ailing mom, other family and friends. It was a chance to visit old haunts as well as an opportunity to say, as one family member put it, to say &uot;Hey, I’m back and I’m alive.&uot;

What Lt. Col. Larry Phelps, 1st Calvary Division U.S. Army, didn’t expect while he was here was a special honor from his hometown.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jeddo Bell visited with Phelps and his family on Thursday afternoon to present the soldier with a special award of merit from Mayor Dexter McLendon and the City of Greenville for his bravery in serving overseas during Operation Iraqi Freedon.

&uot;I accept this on behalf of the First Calvary Division. We’ve had 165 soldiers killed in action and 2,000 wounded in action since this conflict began. So I’m accepting this on their behalf – they are our true heroes,&uot; Phelps said.

Surprised but &uot;extremely pleased and as near to speechless as I ever get&uot; by his hometown honor, the career military officer was both the most senior graduate of the GHS Junior ROTC Program and battalion commander of the Auburn ROTC Program, his little brother Frank Phelps proudly said.

He is also currently on track to make full colonel – and maybe, even general, some day.

&uot;I hear Sergeant Trumbo has a running bet with Colonel Vincent you will become a general while he is still alive – and if you do, Vincent will have to pay up,&uot; added Frank with a grin.

A 1980 Greenville High graduate, Lt. Col. Phelps says he was &uot;blessed&uot; to never have to wonder what he was going to do after high school.

&uot;Oh, there was never any question I was going to go into the military. I’d had wonderful instructors here in the Junior ROTC program

– men like Sergeant Counts, Sergeant Trumbo and Colonel Vincent. They ran things like a regular army unit. I learned a lot and it was fun,&uot; said Phelps.

He credits his mom, Elise, who is currently battling cancer, with being responsible for his career choice.

&uot;She saw some commercial about the ROTC and the delayed entry program and came to me and said, ‘I know what you can do.’ So I have to give my mom a lot of credit,&uot; said Phelps.

Phelps’s own father, Pat, was career Air Force, a job which took the family away from the elder Phelps’ Butler County roots.

However, the Phelps family returned to Greenville in 1969 to the family home on Caldwell Street, a late 19th century home now being restored by Frank Phelps.

&uot;It was an amazing place for kids to live, I can tell you that,&uot; Larry Phelps said of his childhood home.

&uot;There used to be all these rooms up under the house – a pickling room, a canning room, a whole other kitchen. You never knew what you might find up under there. &uot;Apparently, this was a well-to-do person’s home at one time and those were the servant’s quarters. It was a hard thing to relate to as a blue collar kind of kid,&uot; said Phelps with a laugh.

Brother Frank, a.k.a. DJ Funky Frank, is in the process of restoring the area under the house (the original rooms were torn out and the stairway capped due to termite infestation) to create a music room.

Frank and Larry Phelps both fondly recall growing up in a neighborhood filled with houses much like their own.

&uot;It was a great place to live; Mom didn’t drive and so we were able to walk most anywhere in town we needed to go,&uot; said Frank.

Nowadays many of those homes are gone, replaced with office buildings and parking lots. Lot of things have changed, but fortunately the southern hospitality and appreciation for its hometown heroes, like Larry Phelps, is still intact.

He knows there is no place like the South.

&uot;Whenever I do retire from the military, I’d like it to be in the South, probably in the Fort Campbell, Kentucky area where there are good job opportunities. There’s definitely a difference between the North and the South, let me tell you,&uot; Phelps said with a smile.

Phelps, who is returning today to Fort Hood in Texas, plans to return to Greenville for a longer visit in June.

&uot;It’s a great little town – and I don’t take this honor you gave me lightly,&uot; he said.