ROBBINSVILLE – At the front of the Robbinsville High School auditorium sat a table adorned in World War II memorabilia fitting for a museum.
The table, draped in a white table cloth, featured a picture of Wayne Carringer as a young man in his U.S. Army Corps uniform, along with a sketch of him later in life. Also on the table were a book titled “Ghost Soldiers,” a replica of the Enola Gay with a slice of metal from the historic plane, and the first POW license plate issued in North Carolina.
Everything on the table memorialized a local war hero.
On Friday morning, a Graham County road was memorialized after him, too.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials joined local officials and family members in a ceremony to dedicate a road leading to Robbinsville High School as Wayne Carringer Boulevard.
“If he was still alive, Papa Wayne probably wouldn’t have accepted this honor,” said Carringer’s grandson, Robert Moody. “He was a strong advocate for all veterans and didn’t really believe that he deserved special treatment more than anybody else.”
But very few western North Carolinans endured the same torture as Carringer, who survived more than three years as a prisoner of war. He survived the Bataan Death March in 1942 and was transported on an Imperial Japanese Navy hell ship stacked beside other prisoners of war who died standing up. And he labored in a Japanese coal mine where saw the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
Moody outlined his grandfather’s war history and deep faith for more than 10 minutes during the ceremony on Friday. Some presentation slides provided context of the war in the Pacific and others showed graphic images of the conditions Carringer survived.
“On the march, my grandfather fell but another man picked him up before they could notice,” Moody said. “Over the next hill, that man fell and died.”
Once the war ended, a malnourished Carringer, weighing only 75 pounds, was transported back to Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. Later, upon his return to the North Carolina mountains, Carringer founded the annual Bataan-Coorigidor survivor reunion at Fontana Village. Carringer dedicated the rest of his life to his community.
He served three terms on the Graham County School Board and also served on the Robbinsville Town Council and as a deacon at his church. In 1977, Carringer received the first license plate designed for former prisoners of war. It reads “POW-101,” in now faded red paint with Prisoner of War stamped across the bottom.
In February, NCDOT unanimously passed a resolution dedicating the road between N.C. 129 and Robbinsville High School as Wayne Carringer Boulevard.
“I hope you drive down the road and see the sign and remember freedom is not free,” said Jimmy Millsaps, pastor at Grace Tabernacle Church. “People have paid a great sacrifice to have this country we have today.”