Though they are now feeble and most are confined to a wheelchair, all you could see Wednesday at Commonwealth Assisted Living in Hillsville were the heroic faces of brave soldiers.
There, several residents who courageously served their country were honored in a special ceremony and given the red carpet treatment. Besides a meal, the veterans that now reside in the Hillsville facility were honored by the Carroll County Junior ROTC, pinned and honored by members of the Grover King VFW Post 1115, and treated to a speech by Hillsville Town Councilman David Young. Additionally, Commonwealth Assisted Living also unveiled its Wall of Valor – a special wall with photos and plaques of each of the veterans from their service days.
“It’s just a very little thing we can do to show our appreciation. They come in and pin them, put them on the wall, do a ceremony, and then we have flags we will drape over them,” said Kayla Crowder, Executive Director for Commonwealth Assisted Living in Hillsville. “We wanted to do a ceremony honoring the veterans, a little thank you. They deserve a whole lot more, but it is just a start.”
Of the facilities’ 11 veterans, Crowder said eight reside in assisted living and three reside in the memory care unit. Each of the veterans had interesting stories to tell, particularly 94-year-old Air Force veteran Ballard Price of Pulaski.
As a member of the 5th Air Force, Price served as a radio operator on a B-52 bomber. Three of his crew were supposed to be “catapulted over an aircraft carrier in Japan, but we lucked out and they sent us into the 14th Emergency Rescue outfit. That’s those big 85 PT Boats.” It was during this time that Price would earn the Bronze Star for a rescue that ultimately saved a sailor by the name of John F. Kennedy, the eventual 35th president of the United States.
“President Kennedy was on a PT 109 when he got shot at plum under him. The three of us had to take care of his outfit until he got back to the United States,” Price said. “He was lucky he didn’t get killed. And of course, he went on to become president.”
A life-member of Grover King VFW Post 1115, Price also recalled a mishap in shark-infested waters somewhere near New Guinea that caused him to get a large amount of water in his head and both of his hands mashed.
“I’m trying to get something done with the VFW on that to help me because I can hardly button my shirts now,” Price said. “They said my records and a whole bunch of others got blew up and they don’t have hardly any records of it. But I am just lucky I am still here.”
Richard Haskin also served in World War II in the 385th Field Artillery, 104th Infantry Division of the Army. He saw combat in World War II in Europe, a war that would eventually pit him against some of his relatives.
“I was trained in the infantry and sent over to Germany to shoot my cousins. Somebody noticed in my record that I worked for Western Electric installing telephone systems. I got snatched out of the infantry so fast I couldn’t see straight,” Haskin said. “They threw me in the field artillery where they had taken casualties, and so instead of going in on foot I went in on a truck. It was interesting. You had to be up pretty damn close to get the artillery fire in and we had bodies that were up there doing the observation, and then they had to have the guy that knew the communication stuff behind them making sure it got there.”
When thanked by this reporter for his service to his country, Haskin said he was just doing what right.
“All of us from around that time needed to go…and we did,” he said.
Other veterans at Commonwealth Assisted Living included Paul Church, of Sparta, N.C., an Army engineer specializing in heavy duty equipment in World War II.; Larry Barlow, an Air Force veteran from Ashe County, N.C., who saw combat in Vietnam, and J.K. Liddle, an Army infantry veteran from Galax who served during the Korean War from 1952-1954, but did not see combat.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” Liddle said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]