Some soldiers fall on a grenade to become heroes. Lance Cpl. Zachary R. Mayo fell off an aircraft carrier.
Last month, the Marine saved himself by treading water for 36 hours after falling off the USS America in the North Arabian Sea.
Now, the towns of Wallace and Osburn are making him their hometown hero, complete with a parade and proclamations declaring Dec. 19 Zach Mayo Day in their towns. Forever.
They also are adopting the home port of the Pakistani fishermen who saved him. Mayo’s story will be displayed in the Wallace Visitor Center.
Tuesday’s Osburn-to-Wallace parade was the first honoring an individual since actress Lana Turner blew through town in the 1940s, local historians said. Before that, there were 1903 festivities honoring President Teddy Roosevelt.
But the latest celebration was not done to the pleasure of all who live in this stretch of the Silver Valley. “The guy fell off of a boat. It’s not worth making a parade over,” said Tim Pettit, who retired from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
“Give the honor to a POW,” said Pettit, who sipped draft beer and munched pork rinds in the Midway Bar in Osburn on Wednesday as the parade formed downtown.
Ellen Ball, perched nearby, disagreed. “He’s a hero. He isn’t the only one, but he did do OK.”
Wallace, where Mayo went to high school, and Osburn, where he grew up, aren’t talking about how Mayo went into the water. They are highlighting the fact he survived so long.
“I just felt Zach’s spirit for survival was significant enough that he should be honored as a hero,” said Holly Anderson of Wallace, who organized the parade. “We’ve never had a hero here before.”
The commander of the 5th U.S. Naval Fleet is still investigating Mayo’s late November swimming adventure. Mayo said he went for an early morning walk on a platform and was knocked into the sea when a door he forgot to latch swung open and thumped him in the back.
About six people a year fall off of aircraft carriers, according to the U.S. Navy. Few die because most are rescued immediately. Falling off of ships is so common, in fact, that the Navy recently decided to track only the fatal falls.
In Osburn and Wallace, a smattering of “Welcome Home Zack” signs decorated store fronts along the parade route. The Wallace High School band camped in front of the Osburn VFW and struck up a tune to kick off the events.
Mayo, in his dress blues, climbed up on the back of a fire engine that joined a parade consisting of a police car, the ROTC color guard, veterans, Boy Scouts, the Alpine Village Trolley and the county ambulance.
“Now Zach, don’t you fall off that truck there,” his minister, the Rev. Bill Keenan joked from the sidewalk. “No sir,” Mayo replied.
“He’s a good kid,” added Keenan, of the Osburn Community Baptist Church. “They are a very devout family. The power of prayer helped save him.”
The parade ended outside the Wallace Elks Lodge, where representatives of most of Idaho’s Congressional delegation eagerly awaited a chance to bask in the glory, say a few words and score political points.
That was no surprise. U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne has pursued the Mayo media train with near election-year zeal, and read a synopsis of Mayo’s story into the Congressional record. A copy of that will someday hang in the Wallace Visitor Center.
The Boy Scouts added the lightest touch. “As a Scout you were taught to be prepared,” a Scouting representative said in a brief speech at the Elks.
“Since it appears you weren’t exactly prepared, we present this to you.”
He handed Mayo a blue and white inflatable tube. The kind that help you keep your head above water in a swimming pool.
The kind you put on before you go overboard.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo