What’s Good in the Neighborhood: Veteran of three wars returns to the sky


OZARK, Ala. (WDHN) — Meet James Watkins. He’s 91 years young this year, but his age isn’t the most remarkable thing about him.

Instead, it’s the fact that he’s a veteran. A veteran of not just one war, not two wars, but three. He served in the Vietnam War, the Korean War and also World War II.

James joined the Army Air Corps when he was 17 years old. He was shipped to Germany shortly after to fight at the end of WWII. He later became an Army Ranger, serving two combat tours in the Korean War and one during the Vietnam War.

“He was a crew chief on the Huey,” said Kay Thomas, James’ daughter. “For years he also, in Vietnam, was a crew chief while they were flying in Vietnam as well as a gunner.”

This past week, James celebrated his 91st birthday.

But that’s not the most amazing thing that happened. Instead, it was his surprise birthday gift his family was working on behind-the-scenes.

“A friend of ours, Tommy Burns, who is the current crew chief on this helicopter … was telling us about the flight today and so we thought it would be perfect since it was also his birthday,” Kay said.

Tommy said it didn’t take much to get everyone on board.

“She got talking about her daddy was a gunner in the Huey and a Vietnam veteran, and I said well this will be the place for him to come,” he said. “People that’s on walkers or wheelchairs, we’ll pick them up, put them in the helicopter and it makes their day, and that’s what I do it for is to make their day.”

And make his day it did, leading to a loving exchange between father and daughters.

“Did it bring back any old memories?” Kay asked.

“Yes it did,” James answered. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

“It’s your birthday present,” Kay said.

“Happy birthday, Daddy,” added James’ other daughter. “We love you and thank you for serving our country.”

“Thank you,” James answered. “We love you, too.”

From all of us at WDHN, happy birthday Mr. James, and thank you for your service. You are what’s good in the neighborhood this week.

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