K.C. Banta was on vacation when his phone rang.
On the other end was Jill Hutcherson.
She informed him that he had been chosen to serve as the Grand Marshal of the 4th of July parade in Patriot; which will be held this Saturday.
“It is an absolute honor,” Banta said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. The town of Patriot, they’ve done so much up there. The boat dock, the riverfront, and that memorial up there – wow. It’s one of the bet you’ll ever see.”
A career Navy veteran, Banta moved back to Switzerland County after he left military service, and continued to serve this community.
As a County Commissioner, Banta was serving when Patriot secured the funding to restore the boat ramp area; along with other things that have led to the revitalization of the community.
“George Miller was the person who I leaned on up there,” Banta said. “Through the Corps of Engineers we got 28 acres up there for the boat dock. I don’t know where the memorial park came from, but those who got that going should be congratulated. It’s just outstanding.”
In all of the happenings around the community, it is Saturday where Patriot shines brightest. The only incorporated town in the entire nation with the name ‘Patriot’ – would anyone want to be anywhere else on the 4th of July?
“The parade is really something,” Banta said. “It’s big, more than 100 entries. It being the only community named Patriot; with all of the emphasis we put on patriotism, you’d think there’d be hundreds of them.”
Along with his role as a county official, Banta – who serves as the pastor of Long Run Baptist Church near Moorefield – has also gotten to know the community when he’s had the opportunity to preach in the Baptist Church at Patriot.
So what does it mean to be honored in this way? What does the 4th of July mean to this veteran?
“To me, what we’re going to do on Saturday, to me the community has put me at the top of their list,” Banta said. “I’m just at a loss for words on all of this. Patriotism to me, in our family, there’s nothing more special. My wife has been in a military family all of her life. Her dad earned the Purple Heart, was sunk on two ships. We live and breathe patriotism. For me, to ask me to do this in Patriot this Saturday, it’s just a great honor to be lifted that high in a community. It’s an honor.
“I’m just flabbergasted. I’m just floored at what they’re asking me to do.”
Kenton C. ‘K.C.’ Banta was born and raised at Center Square, the son of Loren and Russell Banta. He decided as a teenager to drop out of high school and join the military service – and the rest is history.
“The Navy was an absolute life saver for me,” K.C. Banta said. “I was 17 years old and working in the tobacco patch. I had a great naval career. You’re gone a lot. Barbara and I were married 12 years in the Navy, and we figured up one time that I was gone five years of that.”
In September of 1959, just 20 days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted and headed for Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.
“I’ve never been sorry for quitting school, I never have,” he reflected. “I picked it up. Got taught and watched and learned a lot.”
When he entered the Navy, the Korean War had ended and Vietnam had not yet begun.
“We still had a lot of World War II veterans in the service,” Banta said. “We didn’t pick their brains nearly enough. They were just another sailor. We could have learned so much from their sacrifices.”
During his career in the Navy, Banta was on six different ships, seeing nearly all of the world.
Banta was on the ‘Intrepid’ when it picked up Astronaut Scott Carpenter, who was the second man to go around the world in 1962; and he was also on the ‘Enterprise’ when the U.S. sent the all nuclear-powered task group around the world in 1964.
Banta also spent a total of 31 months in Vietnam, including one year on shore and two cruises on ships.
“We did a lot of evacuations when we pulled out of there,” he said. “I was on shore in 1967. We had a little detachment of small boats up there. What we did was, there was a big harbor and there was a lot of big hardware that came in and anchored there. Our job was to keep everything away from them.”
And while all that was going on, wife Barbara was left back here in Switzerland County to raise their family and provide support for her husband so far away.
“When I was over there, I left Barbara here for 18 months,” he said. “She was 18 years old and six months pregnant. I brought her back here. She didn’t know anyone but my sister and my mother. Being from a military family, she understood what she was getting into, as much as an 18 year old could.”
The couple are an important part of the Switzerland County community; and - although she’s been battling some health issues – come Saturday Barbara will be by K.C.’s side at the front of the parade, if at all possible.
“She’s always been my rock, and she always will be,” Banta said of his wife. “I’m hoping that the humidity won’t be too bad this Saturday and she’ll be able to be there with me.”
K.C. and Barbara met through her mother. Barbara’s dad was in the Navy, serving in World War II as part of 22 years of service. K.C. was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia; and the two met there.
The young couple moved here in January of 1967; and in February of 1967 K.C. left for Vietnam for a year. That began a long and storied military career for the couple, which ended when Banta officially retired from active duty.
Along the way, the couple had three children: son Casey; son Robert; and daughter Dawn.