North Mississippi veterans prepare to relive memories
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. (MCT)
Donning his “Have You Hugged a World War II Veteran Today?” T-shirt from the Collierville-based Forever Young Senior Wish group, 86-year-old Navy veteran James Chapuis of Senatobia, Miss., advised pal Diane Hight of the slogan the gregarious old salt really preferred.
“Have You Kissed a World War II Veteran Today!” they announced in unison.
“You’d be surprised how many people come up to me to say thanks,” says Chapuis, who won Pacific battle stars for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other combat actions, as a coxswain for two years on the USS Shackle, a salvage, rescue and repair vessel.
But being thanked “is kind of embarrassing to me,” he said. “I don’t feel like I did anything special.”
“Except save our civilization, our way of life,” said Hight.
Chapuis, a Grenada native and retired printer, lives happily with his wife of 67 years, Peggy, 84, a Tate County Extension Service retiree, and she’s going too.
“There’s so much for us to do, I won’t get into any trouble,” quipped Chapuis. In those long-ago days as a teenage sailor, “I didn’t drink beer, I gobbled it.”
“We’ll just follow Diane,” said Peggy Chapuis.
“We’d follow her off a mountaintop,” said her husband.
In Hawaii, Chapuis and comrades will visit the memorial above the USS Arizona, sunk on Dec. 7, 1941; tour the USS Missouri, where Japan surrendered in Tokyo Bay in September 1945; and tour the Naval Air Museum, Army Museum and Punchbowl cemetery where many fallen rest. There’s social and recreational events planned, too.
Hight finds great fulfillment in taking up with Chapuis and other senior veterans.
“I’ve always had a love for elderly people,” said Hight, the daughter and niece of World War II and Korean War veterans. She launched Forever Young in 2004; the focus on senior veterans came in 2009 with the realization that many World War II veterans had not even seen the National World War II Memorial in Washington.
Aiding aging veterans before it was too late “amounted to a mission change for us.”
At least 300 World War II veterans have been honored so far through trips to Washington, Belgium, Normandy in France, and Pearl Harbor, “and we’ve provided trips for Korean War and Vietnam veterans, too.” A major journey to Normandy next June for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion is planned, said Hight.
Forever Young also grants individual wishes, from flights on restored B-17 bombers to receiving missing medals earned for wartime bravery. A popular Forever Young event was last September’s World War II-themed “Sentimental Journey” show in Memphis; another is planned for April 2014 that will include Korean War veterans.