SEBRING — Motorists are used to seeing all kinds of signs while going down a road.
But these two signs, placed in a Sebring yard, are certainly unusual.
Charles H. Wiggins, a 92-year-old veteran, missed chatting with his wife of 66 years, Terry, after she died.
Wiggins figured he could drum up his own companionship, and if he erected a sign in his yard saying, “Say hello to an old WWII Vet,” it was bound to catch drivers’ attentions.
After sitting and thinking, he decided to drive to Home Depot, where he purchased two signs and stencils to create what he wanted to say.
“One of them says ‘Say hello to an old WWII vet,’ and the other one says ‘If you can’t stop honk,’ and I have cars going by all day honking,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins lives with his daughter, Sandy Ferguson. She grew up in Naranja, a small town north of Homestead, and now works for a local dental business.
Wiggins created the signs and put them out while Ferguson was at work. When she got home, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I came home one day, and he had those signs up, and I’m like ‘what is he doing?’ But it has just grown into such a cool experiment. Just the kindness of people stopping and talking, and dropping things off, and giving, and taking, and sharing, I mean, it’s just been amazing,” Ferguson said.
The first day Wiggins put out those signs, a husband and wife stopped to see him, and they ended up spending hours talking together on the porch.
Before Wiggins lost his eyesight, he would write stories about his life. After he got out of the Navy, he went to work for U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, where he became a hydrographic surveyor.
Once he retired, he began writing about his childhood, his time in the Navy, and his days as a surveyor.
The man and woman who came to see Wiggins ended up being part of a writing group, and they invited him to attend. There, he was able to read his writing and share it with others.
Wiggins has plenty of stories to tell about his time in the Navy, which he joined when he was 18. He was assigned to the battleship USS Wisconsin, where he served for two and a half years. His fleet was in Tokyo Bay when Japan formally surrendered in 1945. He was then discharged from the Navy in 1946.
After his time there, he worked for 32 years in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. As a hydrographic surveyor, he would map ship channels, harbors and other waterways in both Florida and Puerto Rico. These experiences are now told to some of the few who stop to say hello to him and hear his stories.
One story from his time in the Navy is about a typhoon that struck while they were at sea.
He was assigned a lookout position. After trying to get out of it, given the severity of the storm, he had to climb a ladder to one of the highest points in the ship.
While climbing, he remembers looking down and seeing only water, and clinging to the ladder. Eventually, he made it to the top, where he found the former lookout eager to end his shift.
Wiggins now spends his time sitting at the end of his driveway, conversing with those who stop to listen. Those who stop by also get a poem he wrote, along with a few paragraphs about himself.