110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
O'Connor family members have 114 years of service in the armed forces
By Pat Andrews
posted Nov 8, 2012 - 6:30:00pm
What parade is complete without a marshal? This year's Veterans Day Parade in Downtown DeLand will feature not just a one-person grand marshal, but a whole family of people who have served their country: the O'Connors. Together, father John O'Connor, four children and a son-in-law have served in the U.S. armed forces for a total of 114 years.
The O'Connors' roots run deep in West Volusia. All four children are DeLand High School graduates.
Bill O'Connor, a former chief petty officer who served in the U.S. Navy submarine service 1977-86, is director of continuing education at Stetson University. He's also the main family spokesman. He and other family members met at his office to talk about the family's history of service and the honor of leading this year's Veterans Day Parade Nov. 10.
The story starts, Bill said, with his father, John, who served in the U.S. Navy 1956-88. John was a master chief in the submarine service and also a Navy recruiter stationed in DeLand.
John is an emigrant from Scotland who loves his new country and instilled in his children the desire to serve.
"I came over when I was 11 years old," he said.
John O'Connor joined his grandparents, who had immigrated to New York. There, John met his wife, Betty, while in high school; they've now been married 55 years. The couple came to Orange City in 1959.
John and Betty remember when Orange City had one traffic light, and one police officer, Charlie Garland.
Though Betty is not a military veteran, she served her country as a civilian ombudsman for Submarine Force Atlantic when John was stationed in Norfolk, Va. Betty got to park next to the admiral, while John had to park in the "north 40," unless he rode to work with his wife.
In addition to Bill, John and Betty have three other children: Kat O'Connor Atwood, Jim O'Connor, and Johnny O'Connor. Kat was a senior chief in the U.S. Navy 1981-2003. She's married to Ken Atwood, a naval aviation-maintenance officer and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate who served 1983-2009. The two met and married during their time in the Navy.
After retiring, Ken went to Iraq as a civilian contractor. He just recently returned safely after three years, to Kat's relief.
The two are taking a year off, Kat said, and motoring around the country. They arrived back home in time for DeLand High School's Homecoming Oct. 12, and will remain until after Veterans Day.
Bill's older brother, Johnny, was a Navy submarine torpedo-man/diver in the submarine service 1975-2005, and younger brother Jim was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force 1979-83. Jim now lives in Jacksonville, and is on the road quite a bit, driving a truck for the U.S. Postal Service.
Johnny now has 10 years' service with the DeLand Fire Department as an engineer and firefighter/emergency-medical technician. He lives in Orange City.
Johnny is looking forward to the parade and to riding in Fire Engine 5, built in 1942. The antique truck, which is used for parades and ceremonial occasions, is assigned to Johnny's Fire Station No. 82 at 257 W. International Speedway Blvd. in DeLand.
The other family members are excited about riding in the old truck, too.
This year, instead of bringing up the rear of the Veterans Day Parade, the truck will lead, carrying the O'Connor family.
They are proud to represent the country's veterans, they all agreed.
Bill works with veterans every day in his job as director of continuing education at Stetson, and he's a member of DeBary Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8093, the local AMVETS, and other service-related organizations.
"So, I'm still hanging around vets," he said.
So are the others, and they're grateful for their fellow citizens' appreciation of veterans.
"It means a lot," Kat said, calling herself a "kindred spirit" with other veterans, after 22 years in the Navy.
She said it's like a family — other veterans greet her and talk with her when they see her wearing her U.S. Navy "vet" T-shirt.
"Thank you for all the businesses that acknowledge veterans," Ken said.
Bill plans to wear his VFW honor-guard uniform for the parade, and John said he's lost enough weight to get into his uniform.
"I'll be the one with all the gold," he joked.
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