Happy life of sweetmilk, naps & family
Ernest A Stiles, Sr., believed to be Graham County’s oldest living Veteran, recently celebrated his 96th birthday with four generations of family.
The special party honored a life nearly snuffed out when a Japanese kamikaze pilot rammed the transport ship Stiles was on just off the coast of Luzon.
“He swam through burning gasoline, reached the beach, and watched the stern of the boat rise up out of the water as it went down,” recalled his daughter Gloria Hardy. “You’d think he would have been terrified, but he said he had a great peace at that point in his life. Earlier, he’d had a recurring dream that people were pounding on the metal door to the ship, trying to get in. In his dream, a voice told him that if someone would them about Jesus, they could come in. The voice assured him everything would be alright. A great sense of peace came over him, and he knew what he was meant to do with the rest of his life.”
What he was meant to do was return to his beloved Fontana and guide others to Christ.
Fittingly, Stiles celebrated his 96th birthday at the historic Gunter Cabin in Fontana Village Resort.
The site holds cherished significance for Stiles. “It’s such a special place for our family because my father was the minister at the church in Fontana Village for 24 years,” remarked his daughter Gloria Hardy, the current minister at Fontana Community Church. “And also, his great grand uncle, Jesse Cornwall Gunter, built the cabin in 1875.”
Stiles served as liaison agent/radio operator with the 38th Infantry Division and was with the forces that retook Bataan. He fought at New Guinea, Philippines, Samara, Leyte, and Luzon. He holds the American Theater Ribbon with three battle stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one battle star and bronze arrowhead, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
He also holds an outlook on life we’d all do well to follow. His motto: “To know Him and make Him known.” Those words are already inscribed on his gravestone in Old Mother Church Cemetery.
When asked the secret of his longevity, Stiles replied, “A glass of good, cold sweetmilk and an afternoon nap.”
When he’s not sipping or sleeping, the retired minister enjoys “tinkering” in the home he built in the 1940s and now shares with his daughter, Jackie Wilson.
The guest of honor wasn’t the only soldier present at his birthday celebration. His son, Ernest Stiles Jr., a Desert Storm MP, was on hand for the special occasion.
Sixty Gunter descendants celebrated Stiles’ birthday at an outdoor barbeque catered by Fontana Village that included hickory-smoked Carolina barbeque, tangy slow-roasted barbeque chicken, deep-fried onion rings (Stiles’ favorite), Stoney Hollow Farm’s old-fashioned winter squash cake with apple butter and rustic icing and a delectable smorgasbord of cupcakes.