Maybe we should think of our city differently when it comes to nicknames.
“Bean Town” is not bad and it is certainly catchy. But are there fields of Lima beans surrounding the city? Not really.
How about “The Admiral City?”
Pete Optekar, of Hayden Lake, Idaho, sees that as a good fit.
Optekar is a Navy guy. Two of his close friends today are Thomas Lynch, formerly of Lima, and Ed “Whitey” Feightner, formerly of Elida. Both were Rear Admirals in the U.S. Navy.
“You know, it is really unusual to have two admirals from a city your size,” Optekar pointed out during a phone call last week.
Pardon me, Pete, but make that six admirals.
Besides Feightner and Lynch, there’s Vice Adm. Thomas L. Sprague, who commanded aircraft carriers in World War II; Rear Adm. Tim Riker, at one time the highest-ranking officer in the Coast Guard’s active reserve; Rear Adm. James L. Taylor, a fleet maintenance officer for the Pacific Fleet; and his uncle, Vice Adm. Edmund B. Taylor, who participated in the blockade of Cuba during the 1961 missile crisis.
Feightner was a highly decorated Navy fighter pilot and Lynch commanded a battle group in Operation Desert Shield as well as serving as superintendent of the Naval Academy from 1991 to 1994.
“What do you guys in Ohio put in your water to produce that many admirals,” Optekar joked
Optekar played college football with Lynch at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Tom was the center and I was the left guard. A guy by the name of Roger Staubach was the quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner),” Optekar said.
It was Feightner though, that prompted Optekar’s phone call as well as another call from Hugh Shevlin of Mamaroneck, New York.
Feightner turns 100 on October 14. He now lives in an assisted living facility in Idaho near his nephew, Jim McBride. Optekar is helping plan a birthday party for Feightner on Saturday, Oct. 12.
“Anyone who wants to come or has stories to share can call me (208-762-4571),” he said.
Feightner’s story is an amazing one.
The 1937 Elida High School graduate was an ace fighter pilot during World War II. By the war’s end, he had nine confirmed kills — including three Japanese Zeros in one day during a dogfight over Taiwan — and four probables. He learned aerial combat from the Navy’s first ace, Lt. Cmdr. Butch O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient who the Chicago airport is named after.
After the war, Feightner tested aircraft and trained pilots to transition from propeller-driven aircraft to jets. He became a member of the Navy’s elite Blue Angels demonstration team, flying the lead “solo” position. He was assigned to several of the Navy’s most secret projects at Patuxent River, Maryland. He flew and helped develop legendary fighters such as the F-7U Cutlass, F-9F Banshee and the attack aircraft AD Skyraider.
Everyone who knows Feightner seems to have a favorite story to tell.
Optekar shared a couple.
Every Saturday during football season, Optekar takes Feightner to the local country club where a group of Naval veterans watch the Navy football games then sit around and listen to the music of the 1940s. One time Whitey noticed a ping-pong table. “We ended up playing a game. I cracked one off the corner of the table and Whitey dove for it — he’s 97 years old and diving after a ping-pong ball! He ended up landing in a bunch of wooden chairs. He ended up with a cut on his head and a bunch of bruises. What a competitor,” Optekar said.
Another time he and Feightner got into a serious discussion about growing old and seeing old friends pass away. Optekar wanted to know if Feightner ever got lonely. “No, he told me, because you can find good people wherever you go in life. He said he eats with them every day in the assisted living facility.”
Gerry Neely contacted the newspaper a few years ago. She said she knew Feightner “forever” and recalled an instance that happened during World War II. She was flying to California to see her husband, Scott, who was on leave. During a stop in Wichita, Kansas, she said she got to talking with a Navy pilot. “When he realized I was from Lima he asked if I knew Whitey Feightner. He told me Whitey saved his life. Whitey shot down a Japanese Zero that was on his tail.”
Shevlin. He also contacted The Lima News last week trying to locate Feightner. He and other sailors who served under Feightner aboard the USS Chikaskia during the Korean War wanted to wish their commander a happy 100th birthday.
“He was a delight to be around, very approachable, a person you never forget,” said Shevlin. “It was an honor to serve under him. America knows few better of a man.”
ROSES AND THORNS: An infant’s hero finds a place in the rose garden.
Rose: To Chad Recker of the Lima Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol. He was honored Thursday by the Lima-Allen County Safe Community Coalition and the Fraternal Order of Police for saving the life of an infant who was having trouble breathing.
Rose: To Patricia and Lucien “Lou” Cosyn, of Lima. They will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary on Oct. 1.
Rose: To Dr. John Snyder, the former dean and director of OSU-Lima. He received the 41st Mercy Award for community service from the Mercy Health Foundation of of Greater Lima.
Rose: To Perry Township Fire Chief Justin Roberts and Deputy Fire Chief Brooke Hedges. They came up with the idea for a township Community Day, in which people can participate in fun activities while learning more about the township’s safety services.
Thorn: To David Cole, 48, who was an inmate at the Putnam County Jail. He was allowed to leave the jail Tuesday on work release and never came back.
Thorn: A series of armed robberies over a course of several days in Lima saw a break-in at the home of a 68-year-old man in which a Browning .22 caliber long rifle and a Sigsauer 9mm pistol were stolen.
Thorn: Wapakoneta Middle School was briefly evacuated Thursday after police received a report of a threat.
PARTING SHOT: It takes two people to tell a lie: One to lie and one to listen.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.