In honor of Veterans Day, I am proud to introduce this piece about a Dunedin History Museum member who grew up in Dunedin. “AC” recently retired with 41 years of military and government civilian service.
Today, AC continues to support that same mission as the director of strategic relations at SPATHE Systems, LLC — an 8(a) service-disabled veteran-owned small business IT solutions integrator and defense contractor. I am honored to have this decorated soldier share his recollections with our museum members, and we look forward to working with AC on special projects in the future.
My heartfelt gratitude to this Blue Star family, to the brothers for their service to our country, and to AC for sharing his very personal story with us.
— Vinnie Luisi, director of the Dunedin History Museum
The late Mr. Arthur Curtis and Lorene Johnson Coley raised two sons, Arthur Charles Coley (aka AC) and Johnny Curtis Coley (aka JC), to honor the values of sacrifice, honesty, hard work, and humility and to always look for opportunities to help someone else. After graduating high school, they enlisted in the U.S. Army to do just that by defending the United States Constitution.
These two brothers deployed at the same time from West Germany to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield (1990) and Desert Storm (1991). Early expectations were that they would not come home alive. The brothers remember listening to Whitney Houston sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 in Tampa on the Armed Forces radio station. They did so while wearing full chemical protective gear in sensitive defensive positions somewhere in the Middle East desert.
“As you know, Whitney Huston’s Super Bowl XXV performance was a huge moment,” AC said. “The thought of my hometown celebrating one of America’s greatest traditions while I was in the middle of combat is something I can never forget. In that moment, I knew I was fighting for everyone back at home.”
All through combat operations, they were subjected to SCUD missile attacks with one particularly memorable attack occurring on their mother’s birthday. They survived direct enemy fire, dangerous chemical agents, and the hazardous environment of numerous burning oil well fires during 100-degree weather in Kuwait. These combat veterans defended Saudi Arabia, attacked the Iraqi Forces, liberated Kuwait, and humbly received awards and campaign ribbons for winning the Gulf War.
During this conflict, they collaborated on writing a letter to thank their mother for her sacrifices, strength, priceless love, and positive influence on their lives. The Coleys wanted to be sure their mother knew how much she was loved and appreciated.
The soldiers were able to share that love and affection with her in person when they returned to Dunedin with battlefield disabilities. They also thanked fellow Floridians, family members and well-wishers across the United States of America for their prayers and outstanding support. Currently, the National Armed Services & Law Enforcement Memorial Museum in Dunedin has honored their hometown heroes in a Gulf War display.
Through various programs, AC has helped support Tampa-based veterans as they transition out of combat and into the real world. In addition, AC has made it part of Spathe Systems’ mission to give back to the community. He led Spathe’s support for James A. Haley’s Fisher house — an organization that offers temporary lodging for family members with hospitalized veterans — and organized a school event at Pizzo Elementary located on USF’s campus in Tampa to celebrate veteran significance with young students.
As a Black-owned small business, SPATHE empowers courageous veterans like AC to leverage his uniquely personal experiences and translate them into broader, global support. With AC’s leadership and guidance, SPATHE has continued to grow and excel into new prospects.
Dunedin’s African American citizens have always played a major role and have a proud tradition of providing outstanding military service men and women to defend the United States. Other well-known African American military contributions to the defense of our nation include the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Civil War), 9 & 10 Calvary , 24 & 25 Infantry Regiments (Spanish American War), 503rd Battalion, 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Korean War) and the Tuskegee Airmen (World War II). These organizations represent only a few examples of military personnel who fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy today.
On Nov. 11, the Dunedin History Museum will add this African-American Blue Star family’s story to the amazing narration of this great city.