Born to Serve: A life spent in service to country

Published 10:01 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015

By Mark Schmerling


“Born to serve” aptly describes Frank Ortiz.

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The Tryon Estates resident is a retired U.S. Army major, one-time Little League Baseball umpire, has helped high school students attend trade and technical schools, and has been involved in many community organizations. Wherever he’s lived, he became involved, starting in his mid-teens.


“I was a teenager during the second World War. I grew up in Bronx, New York,” he said, the seventeenth out of eighteen children of Puerto Rican immigrants. At that time, Ortiz remembered that the only thing he and several friends of the same age wanted to do was to serve our country in the military. “So,” he recalls, “at the age of 15, we all went over to the Army National Guard, and enlisted.”


Wartime being wartime, and the 1940s not being 2015, no one verified the young men’s ages. “I didn’t lie,” he said. “But no one asked me (my age). In those days, questions were not asked, and they accepted us.”


Ortiz remembers taking training at Camp Smith, north of New York City.


“When we turned 16,” he continues, “we enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, where we took training in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina,” and at 17, he joined the army, “and took basic training at Ft. Dix, N.J.”


Eventually, he noted, his sergeant in 1948 realized he knew all about the military. By the time the Korean War came along, he was already a staff sergeant. In Korea, he was promoted to sergeant first class. Years later, “The army decided to give me a direct commission as a first lieutenant. In 1966, they sent me to Vietnam.” There he was promoted to major, a rank he held at retirement.


In some ways, Ortiz has left the military, but the military has not left Ortiz. He pointed out that Tryon Estates is home to 111 service veterans, including World War II veteran Stanley Howell, who served under General George S. Patton.


“We have some history,” Ortiz noted of his home.


Ortiz is a member of Tryon American Legion Post 250, where he chaired the posts’ scholarship committee. He remembers interviewing students at Polk County High School, where very few students applied for scholarships to technical or trade schools, often because they feared they would not do well. He’s worked to change that attitude, and to get more young people enrolled into such schools. The American Legion Scholarship from Post 250 is dedicated, he says, to students who want to learn a trade.


Much of the inspiration for that scholarship came from Ortiz realizing that his oldest son, a retired master electrician, made more money in his trade, than his siblings combined.


Also at Post 250, Ortiz was also a bingo caller, noting that money raised from this activity goes to Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry in Columbus, and is designated to help destitute veterans.


Ortiz also belongs to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10349 of Mill Spring, where he is the adjutant, or someone who takes notes during meetings. Other military connections for Ortiz are memberships to Korean War Veterans’ Association’s Hendersonville chapter, the Vietnam War Veterans Association in Asheville, and the Military Officers Association of America, meeting in Hendersonville. He’s on the board of directors for that local group.


In the 1960s and 70s, Ortiz and his family lived near Leesburg, Va. where three of his children attended Loudoun Valley High School. Ortiz was very active in promoting the school’s athletic programs, so active in fact that this year he was honored during the school’s football homecoming event. A plaque in his honor was placed in the school’s athletic hall of fame.


When it was suggested that the only things Ortiz didn’t do at homecoming were tackle an opposing player or sell popcorn, he smiled and said, “I didn’t tackle anybody, but I did help sell popcorn.”


After being a widower for ten years, and having relocated to Florida (where his two sisters lived), Ortiz moved to Tryon in 1994. Ortiz was reading a military magazine, which listed Tryon among the five best places to retire. A friend drove Ortiz to this area. Ortiz liked this area so much that he asked his friend to stop at a local real estate office, so he could buy a home.


Shortly after he arrived here, he married his then girlfriend, Audrey. They remain married today.


After moving to Tryon, representatives of the Tryon Rotary Club invited him to join. In 1998 and 1999, Ortiz served as the club’s president, and for three years following, he served as assistant district governor.


Another of Ortiz’s honors is his inclusion in the Second Wind Hall of Fame, which honors retired individuals who volunteer in three or more activities. In Ortiz’s case, one might lose count.


For 21 years, he has volunteered at Hospice of Carolina Foothills. For ten of those years, he was a trained caregiver. For the past three years, he’s been chairman of the annual Steps to HOPE golf tournament. For five years, Ortiz served as a member of the Harmon Field board, which maintains the large recreation center on Tryon’s east end. Ortiz is also president of the Tryon Estates Residents Association.


Another thing he’s very proud of, says Ortiz, is that several years ago, he received a certificate from then North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, for his volunteer efforts.


As a tribute to some 200,000 individuals who served underage in World War II, Ortiz belongs to Veterans of Underage Military Service. Well-known individuals who served underage in World War II include Tony Curtis and Gene Hackman.


Ortiz, who always liked baseball, was once asked to umpire a youth baseball game. Liking it, he trained as a Little League umpire. His great honor in that activity was being invited to umpire in a Little League World Series.


“It’s a lot of fun,” he said of that experience.


Ortiz has accomplished a lot, and met some interesting folks, probably few as interesting as he is.


“I’ll be 85 in March,” said Ortiz, whose smile and energy belie his age. “I’ve got to cut back.”



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FrankOrtiz3: After being commissioned as a lieutenant, Ortiz, second from left, was assigned to the Army Security Agency in Arlington, Va. in 1961 as a recruiter. (Photo submitted)


6781: Although he didn’t attend Loudon Valley High School, his children did, and while there Ortiz was known for his staunch support of the school and its programs. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)


6782: In 2015, Ortiz was inducted into the Loudon Valley High School Athletic Hall of Fame, with his numerous accomplishments and volunteer efforts catalogued by the Vikings’ Athletic Association. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)


USE FrankOrtiz1 and FrankOrtiz2 together, slightly overlapped if possible:

When his oldest son began playing Little League ball, Ortiz was asked to umpire. “I didn’t know anything about umpiring,” he said, “but I’ll learn.” And learn he did. He went to umpire school in Florida and Pennsylvania, and later went on to umpire in the Industrial League, Babe Ruth League, American Legion games and the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. (Photos submitted)


Ortiz5: Ortiz was photographed in Korea as a lieutenant in 1962.


Ortiz6: Ortiz in Hawaii as a private, age 17 in 1948. His father and uncle also served in the military.