Bestowing overdue honors
Published 1:02 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The stories of two veterans, both 91 years old, have been brought back to life in recent months — decades after their service was completed. Each veteran has been awarded for his dedication to serving the United States.
Senior Pilot Maj. Reese Tucker, a retired member of the Air Force, had been working to receive his command pilot wings since his retirement in 1965.
Unfortunately, he retired 14 days too early to receive the wings, despite having 4,000 more hours in flight than the required 1,500 hours.
Because of the hard work of caring friends and community members, Tucker now has his wings. Cindy Ott and Kat Short, in particular, helped behind the scenes.
They contacted U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt’s office, and from there it was decided Tucker had more than enough hours.
On Sunday, May 22, during a ceremony at Calvary Chapel, Tucker was surprised when he was told he would be presented with his command wings. Farmville Mayor David Whitus attended the ceremony and presented the wings to Tucker.
“My words can’t say what my heart is feeling, but my tears can,” Tucker said. He said he was honored and excited have finally received his wings.
“I’ve waited a long time for them,” he said.
“I was honored and privileged to pin Maj. Tucker’s wings on him on behalf of Congressman Robert Hurt,” Whitus said.
The “One Nation Under God” ceremony, hosted by Calvary Chapel, honored veterans in attendance with songs sung by the chapel’s choir. Pastor Marv Fisher helped to lead the ceremony and congratulate Tucker.
Tucker shared stories of his time in Japan in the mid-1950s where he went on secret night missions to test the air in lieu of the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Rain or snow, he and others would fly down to 40,000 feet to get samples of the air. It was very dangerous, he said.
According to Tucker, it’s important to honor veterans because it shows that the nation has respect for what they do.
“Our veterans are heroes,” Whitus said. “The men and women who have fought and died protecting and defending this great nation and our liberties are worthy of our respect and admiration for the sacrifices they have made for our country. Honoring our military should be something every American is proud to do.”
In January, 91-year-old World War II veteran Henry Smith returned to Luxembourg, Germany, after 70 years away, to receive plaques in his honor, attend banquets and receive awards for his service liberating German communities, including Vielsalm, Frand-Halleux and Salmchateau.
A book, “Unlikely Heroes: A Chronicle of the Men of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 291st Regiment, 75th Infantry Division in World War II,” written by James Slagle McClintock, includes stories about Smith.
Smith was a machine gunner for the 75th division while in the service.
The book describes how Smith’s army divisions contributed to the Battle of the Bulge and of his travels, more recently, in January to Belgium, where he was thanked by the community.
The book focuses on how the 75th Division defended the American Army against German divisions despite having limited training, a lack of food, supplies and winter clothing. Because of their efforts, the German Bulge collapsed and the division earned the name “Bulge Busters.”
Nowadays, Smith enjoys his free time living in Farmville.
He is a former horseshoe champion and enjoys playing cornhole in his yard. Smith enjoys writing, sketching, painting and emailing with friends and family.
Smith keeps a photo of his late wife of 67 years close by as a way of honoring her memory.
“It was nice to be thanked,” Smith said.