K.T. Robbins often wondered what happened to the French woman he fell in love with during WWII. As he headed back to France to honor the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, he was certain his first love was no longer living. Much to his surprise, with the help of France 2 Television, Forever Young Senior Veterans was able to reunite the two love birds after 75 years apart. Get your tissues ready.
In 1945, Luke McLaurine, a bombardier in a B-24, bailed out over Austria after his airplane suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure. He says he was only in the air for 10 seconds before hitting a tree and landing upside in a snow bank.
It had been his wish, he said, to “jump out of a perfectly good airplane.” But this time, he hoped to enjoy it. Luke jumped on Memorial Day along with another WWII veteran and two Vietnam veterans.
How handsome is this young man? 94-year-old Elvin Littlejohn wore his previous set of dentures for 50 years. They were broken and missing teeth. It was time for an upgrade. He can now eat better, speak more clearly, and he looks years younger. Elvin will be all smiles as we return him to Belgium next month for the first time since the war. He was a tank driver who fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Thank you to everyone who gives so that we can make the lives of our WWII veterans better.
Cancer took over the body of 66-year-old, Air Force veteran, Michael Berry. He was given only a short time to live and was alone in Tennessee on hospice care. He longed to return to Houston, TX to be with his family, but could not afford the rather costly ambulance transfer. Forever Young, with matching contributions from an anonymous donor and one of Michael’s family members, helped pay the way for Michael to be with his family in Houston. Through your generosity, Michael lived out his final days surrounded by the ones who love him most. He passed away two weeks later. It’s the least we could all do to honor a man who served our country well.
It was no ordinary day for 92-year-old Vince Rowell, but then again, he is no ordinary man. Vince was being awarded France’s highest honor for his service in WWII more than 70 years ago.
“[I am] very, very excited,” he said about the ceremony. “I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I was a little kid.”
Last Year, Vince received confirmation from the French Consulate that he, later in the year in Nashville, would be awarded France’s highest honor, but then, it was radio silence.
“Every day I’d go to the mailbox to see if I had gotten that confirmation and I hadn’t gotten it,” Vince said.
It turns out, somehow, Vince was overlooked.
“They called my friend, Daniel, and told us they would be giving some medals out in Montgomery AL and would I be willing to drive 500 miles to get,” Vince said. “I’d have driven 1,000 miles to get this.”
Vince, a part of the 29th Infantry, fought all the way through France and at the Battle of the Bulge, but not before storming Omaha Beach in Normandy in the Second Wave on D-Day.
“When I saw from the ship, from the LST what was going on in the first wave, I was scared to death,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d live beyond that beach or not. It was absolutely terrible. I’ve never seen so much carnage in my life.”
The country where Vince was willing to sacrifice it all, gave back to him their highest honor…the French Legion of Honor Medal.
“I never dreamed in my life that I would be receiving this medal,” Vince said. “It means so much to me because it is one of the highest honors that France gives out and to know that they thought that much of what I’d done for their country to honor me back with this medal, it really touches me.”
It had been a lifelong dream of 90-year-old Charles P. Voland to return to Okinawa after fighting the Japanese there during WWII. He landed on the island with the 1st Marine Div. on Easter Sunday, April 1st, 1945. The battle, which was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, claimed more than 7,300 lives and wounded 32,000 more. Charles also fought five months earlier at the Battle of Peleliu.
Surviving the war, Charles returned home and married his sweetheart, Grace, raising six children together. Charles drove a truck to support his family and later went on to become a police officer – and eventually Chief of Police for Newburgh Heights, OH.
It had been a lifelong dream of Charles’ to return to Okinawa, to retrace the steps he took 70 years ago during WWII.
It’s not too often that Forever Young gets a request to hunt wild game. The wish-request came from 74-year-old Ronald Prairie, a U.S. Marine veteran who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 4 cancer and given only a few months to live.
“We chose to not do any operations nor chemo as to preserve his quality of life now,” said his son, Jeff Prairie, who helped make the request for his dad’s wish. “On a couple of our ensuing frequent fishing trips I had asked him his bucket-list, what would he like to do before he passed. His only response was that he’s has never harvested a big game animal.”
While hunting something like Elk was out of the scope of possibilities, there was one experience of wild game Forever Young could grant. “I had proposed maybe a feral hog hunt down south as they are considered a nuisance and can be hunted all year long,” Jeffrey said. It was a great idea and Wild Hog Hunt donated a wonderful three-day hunting package including food and lodging.
While both father and son harvested many hogs throughout the weekend, Ronald was fortunate enough to kill the biggest boar of the weekend, weighing in at 175 pounds. “We both hugged and cried over that darn hog,” said Jeffrey. “In the words of my father I had helped, ‘make his wish come true’.”
It’s the least we could all do to give back to a man who was ready and willing to lay his life down in service for his country.
It was one of the most exciting times my father has ever had,” Jeffrey said. “We’re grateful for the people who unselfishly helped put this trip together, as a way for my father and I to spend some time together and bond doing something we’ve always enjoyed.”
A Battle of the Bulge survivor had the best birthday a 93-year-old could ask for as he was honored by Belgium with the Medal of Honor.
Tom Jacques was a dentist in the U.S Army during WWII but when the need arose, he was thrown into the position of a combat medic.
It was in this position where Tom served in the Battle of the Bulge. He went on to help the U.S and allied forces liberate Belgium after it had been occupied by Germany.
There is one condition to receive this prestigious Medal of Honor that Tom didn’t meet; the WWII veteran must return to Belgium to receive it. Due to his declining health, Tom was unable to make the trip back to Europe with 11 European-Theater veterans on Forever Young’s ‘Trip of Honor’.
Thankfully, Wes Parker, Tom’s son-in-law, went as a volunteer and was able to receive the highly-coveted award on Tom’s behalf.
Two active-duty Army soldiers presented the award to Tom as family and friends celebrated him for his service, sacrifice, and 93rd birthday.
World War II pilot, Hulan Roberts, thought his B-17 flying days were over, after flying 32 missions in Germany. He left the Army Air Corps in 1944 and, like many, moved forward with his life and put the war behind him.
However, Hulan, now 91-years old, relived the moments he spent aboard a B-17 as a turret gunner, while on Forever Young’s “Trip of a Lifetime” to Washington DC last year. The memories came rushing back to him after 67 years. He never dreamed he would get to sit in the “glass bubble” where he flew so many missions ever again.
Then it happened.
His dream became a reality when the Experimental Aircraft Association brought a B-17 to the Olive Branch Airport and selected Hulan to fly in the same position he held during WWII – nose gunner.
When the crew took Hulan up to the nose gunner position, he crawled around like he was a teenager, surprising those with him by his flexibility and eagerness to jump right in.
“He might be 91-years-old on the outside, but inside he’s 17,” said. Hulan had the privilege of sitting in the nose gunner’s position for the entire flight, including take-off and landing. When the engines revved up, all you could see was pride, joy, and a few tears on his face.
Hulan’s sons, granddaughter, and great-grandson came along for the ride. With pleasure, he explained his duties as a B-17 gunner.
“Oh, the memories this brings back,” said Hulan. “My, my, I feel like I’ve never left.” He spoke of the memories of war and fighting the Germans as if no time had elapsed at all, much less 67 years. Its amazing how the images of war are etched on the minds of these aging warriors.
“That was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Hulan said, shortly after the plane landed. “It is a lot more fun when you don’t have someone shooting at you.”
Robert Swift, 83, was below deck on the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor wrapping souvenirs and writing Christmas cards to his family in Tennessee when he heard a loud commotion. It was an early Sunday morning and the men had just finished breakfast and were looking forward to a day of relaxation. Many sailors had gone up top to sunbathe and enjoy the beautiful Hawaiian sun, so the men below were confused by the loud, disturbing noises. Robert ran up to the deck and saw many sailors lying around – shot and lifeless. The commander told the men to get below, so they would be safe. However, torpedo and Japanese fighter planes had simultaneously attacked the USS Utah, so they didn’t realize the severity of the situation. As the sailors began to gather in a lower compartment, the water rose rapidly. Mr. Swift said, “We realized we were in trouble when the water got waist deep, so we ran out of there like a bunch of drowned rats.” The ship turned on her side and sank in 8 minutes. Like many sailors, Mr. Swift swam through the oil fires to the shore to survive. The USS Utah was the first ship attacked and wasn’t very far from the shore, which saved many of their lives.
Robert Swift’s wish was to return to Hawaii to be reunited with his ship and fallen comrades. The USS Utah still lies on her side, and just like the USS Arizona, contains the remains of those sailors who perished there on December 7, 1941.
What a huge undertaking this was for Forever Young, and it was going to take all of us to bring this wish to fruition. Channel 3′s morning show, Live@9, asked the community for financial help, as well as the Collierville Herald. The consensus was unanimous- we had to get Mr. Swift, 90, back to Pearl Harbor. It had been almost 70 years since he was there and this was something our community couldn’t ignore. With the help of the Durham Foundation and some loyal contributors, Mr. Swift was on his way within four short weeks.
One of the greatest surprises came when Jackie Ford from Northwest Airlines told us they were going to upgrade Mr. and Mrs. Swift’s tickets to first class. Ms. Ford said, “This is our gift to Mr. Swift for his service to our country.” Having never flown first class before, Robert didn’t know he’d be treated like a superstar, and he’d get to eat all the way to Hawaii!
On the day of the Swift’s departure, the Navy Band and the University of Memphis Naval ROTC, came to the airport to give him a formal send-off. Channel 3 did a story on Mr. Swift, which was an awesome tribute. You can view it by clicking here.
Mr. and Mrs. Swift and their daughter, Christie, spent 5 nights in Hawaii and were treated like royalty. Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor Survivor Liaison, hosted the Swift family and arranged for a private tour of the island. This special trip on the Navy’s yacht took Robert to the USS Utah once again. Mr. Swift was moved by the amount of respect and attention he received at Pearl Harbor and couldn’t believe he was being asked to sign autographs. J His wife said laughing, ” He’s going to get a big head. I’m going to have to nail his feet to the floor.”
The Swift family is humbled by the love they’ve they been shown and could never thank everyone for making this trip possible. Mr. Swift said, ” This was a trip of a lifetime and I never would have gone without Forever Young. Thanks so much.”