WILDWOOD – From the streets of New York City to the South China Sea, Larry Solan’s journey continues as he reconnects with faith in God. A naval veteran, Solan has called Cape May County home since 1977.
Wounded in the service, Solan bears the scars of warfare both physically and mentally. Yet, he finds healing through reading the Bible and helping others.
“I picked myself up and got back in the race,” Solan said Dec. 7.
Despite personal hardship and limited mobility, Solan desires to spread cheer to those around him.
Solan, 75, grew up in a difficult home environment in New York City. He described his relationship with his mother as “hard.”
While a young child, Solan remembers his mother “locking all of the toys” in a closet due to a remark he’d made. Yet, Solan said he “learned to forgive” and holds nothing against his mother who also endured difficulties.
Solan was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and served as an altar boy.
“I got caught tasting the wine,” Solan said.
In 1963, Solan joined the U.S. Navy and set off for basic training. At the time, America grappled with the conflict in Vietnam, social unrest on the home front, and the Civil Rights Movement.
After “coming up through the ranks,” Solan shipped out as a 3rd class boatswain’s mate. According to naval information, a boatswain’s mate is responsible for a ship’s maintenance, i.e., painting, unloading cargo, ammunition, etc.
Solan set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, for the South China Sea. During a particular engagement, Solan said he caught the shells as they were ejected from a gun.
“They (shells) were red-hot,” Solan explained.
Even in self-defense and to save lives, a warrior often makes life-altering decisions.
Solan said he had to shoot a “boy” who threatened to kill him while on shore leave.
Although Solan was not far from the boat, he encountered this teenaged fighter who approached him and fellow sailors. Solan said he told the young man “to not come any closer.”
“He had a rifle under his jacket,” Solan said. “It was either him or me.”
To this day, Solan still dreams about the young man. He lost the tips of three fingers when the young man opened fire.
“I survived,” Solan said. “I have a way of thinking through things before they happen.”
After his time in the Navy Reserve, Solan worked several jobs, moving from place to place. He never married nor had children.
“I was the last fruit peddler in New York City,” Solan said.
His colorful descriptions of Italian neighborhoods and street scenes capture a bygone era. Solan said he appeared in a documentary on peddlers.
He no longer attended a church but realized that God kept working in his life. He came to Wildwood, in 1977, after transporting amusement rides to the Boardwalk from Sandusky, Ohio.
“I never looked back,” Solan said.
Today, Solan attends the Living Waters Veteran Memorial Chapel. He is grateful for God’s grace and the kindness of others. Despite limited mobility, Solan buys cookie tins and distributes them throughout Wildwood. He also volunteered at the Lazarus House by stocking food pantry shelves.
Solan describes his faith as “a journey,” and encourages fellow veterans to visit the Chapel.
“There is always a good Scripture to pick you up,” Solan said. “We welcome everyone.”
Solan said that no matter the past, there is hope and healing to be found.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.