'That American flag means a lot'
The State, Columbia, S.C.
When Gerene Sullivan Wingard was a child growing up in Olympia, S.C., there were so many young men marching off to military service that her street acquired the name of “Bell’s Bottom,” for the wide Navy pants sported by so many of the young sailors.
Patriotism and love for the Navy run deep in her family, a spirit instilled by her late mother, Ola Sullivan, who told the story of how she left Gerene as a 5-week-old baby to meet her husband Floyd’s ship returning from the Pacific after World War II.
“That was the way I was raised,” Wingard said. “That American flag means a lot.”
So it’s no surprise that when customers push open the glass doors to Hairworks, the beauty salon Wingard co-owns on Covenant Road, they enter a glorious sea of red, white and blue and a photographic tribute to the men and women who have fought in two centuries of American conflicts.
The display includes photographs of soldiers who served in World War I and World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a sepia tone print of William Henry Bridger, a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War. The pictures are on loan from customers as well as the two other shop owners Gary Stanley and Tora Linton.
Margaret Zissett contributed photographs of her husband, Marion Zissett, and son Rodney Zissett, both Air Force veterans, as well as her step-grandson Justin Bellamy who is stationed at Charleston Air Force Base.
Included among them, too, is a photograph of the Zissetts on their wedding day in 1959, Marion Zissett in his pressed dress uniform and Margaret in a lovely white below-the-knee dress with a starched tulle underskirt.
“I hadn’t planned on getting married,” Margaret Zissett confided. But she met her future husband while he was stationed in England and they wed in an English church before he returned stateside. Marion Zissett spent 221/2 years in service, including stints in Korea and Vietnam, she said.
Wingard loves the stories behind the photographs and tours the shop telling vignettes about each picture.
Hairworks has an older clientele, and she said the display has meant so much to them.
“To see the elderly people when they walk in, they are so enthused about it,” she said.
Nestled among the patriotic confetti are photographs of her veteran brothers W.F., Donald and Johnny “Sonny” Sullivan, including a 1960s-era shot that features a teenage Gerene, sporting a stylish beehive hairdo, with her eldest brother, Johnny.
A photograph of Stanley’s late father, James Stanley, sits near his station. Linton has photographs of husband, Sam Linton, and father, Howard Watson, her brother Ray Watson, and her niece and nephew, Ray’s children, Donnie and Amanda. The Watsons are also cousins to Gerene.
Wingard acknowledges that she is prone to elaborate decorating at holiday time, whether it is Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or Easter.
But this display, which is running from Memorial Day through the July 4th holiday week, holds a special place in her heart.
It has taken Wingard weeks to organize and place the display, which includes a flag- and ribbon-bedecked tree, wall wreaths and wooden painted cutouts of Uncle Sam and soldiers from four branches of the military, painted by her friend Tina Jeffcoat. Another friend, Sandra Roach, helped her design and write her central tribute placard explaining the display.
“I did that to honor my customers and my guys,” Wingard said. “They gave up so much to go and fight for their country.”
Linda Kay Shealy brought a photograph of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a 23-year-old prisoner of war from Idaho, who was captured in Afghanistan in June 2009. She doesn’t know him but wears a POW bracelet in his honor.
“I wear it every day when I go out,” said Shealy, who has been Gerene Wingard’s customer for 32 years. “He is one of our heroes and I would love to know how he is doing.”
Zissett, also a Hairworks regular, recalled that Wingard put up a smaller display last year. But this year’s photographic exhibition topped that by a mile.
“I thought, my goodness, they are coming out of the woodwork,” she said of the accumulating photographs. “I think it is very patriotic, and I think it is wonderful the way they do thank our veterans. At the end of the Vietnam War it wasn’t very popular to be in the military and I didn’t understand it. It’s nice to know that that is in the past.”
“It just brightens you up when you walk in,” Shealy said of the display. “What memories are there right in that shop.”