Hundreds celebrate WWII veteran Charlie Ormsby's 100th birthday

By KIM DUNLAP | Kokomo Tribune | Published: January 6, 2020

KOKOMO, Ind. (Tribune News Service) -- With a tear in his eye, World War II veteran and U.S. Army Air Corps Master Sgt. Charlie Ormsby made his way into the dining hall of the VFW Post 1152 to a standing ovation.

After all, it's not every day that you get to celebrate your 100th birthday, especially with around 250 family, friends and community members in attendance.

And for about two straight hours on the evening of Dec. 28, Ormsby sat in his guest of honor seat and greeted several of the birthday party's attendees, many of whom shook his hand, posed for pictures and offered up kind words of congratulations to the centenarian.

Also on hand were singers from Taylor High School who covered WWII-era musical numbers from the Andrews Sisters, and those in attendance were also encouraged to dress in 1940s-era attire.

It was a celebration a year in the making, Ormsby's granddaughter JoAnna Daily said, but one that almost didn't happen at all.

"We had a little scare earlier this year," she said. "We thought we might lose him, but he pulled through miraculously, and I told him, 'Grandpa, we're going to plan your birthday party. You can't quit on us now. You're going to make it to 100 [Ormsby was born on Dec. 29, 1919].'

"So when we walked in today to pick him up at his apartment, his eyes just lit up," Daily continued. "We didn't keep this [party] a secret, but he thought it was just going to be a small gathering. So when we walked in today and everyone stood up for him, I knew he was definitely taken aback. And that just made everything worthwhile."

Daily was one of the organizers of her grandfather's birthday party, but she said living in Florida made her have to rely on local help from her aunts and uncle, as well as VFW Commander John Meeks, to pull it all off.

"And I could just leap out of my skin for all this because I just love and adore my grandfather," Daily said. "His heart is warm, and he's just our hero."

Ormsby enlisted in the Army Air Corps -- now known as the U.S. Air Force -- in October 1941, two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

After initial flight line mechanic training, Ormsby was eventually transferred to Las Vegas, where he learned how to be an aerial gunner on B-17s.

Ormsby then left the states for England in 1944 after he was assigned to the same B-17 squadron as his twin brother, George.

In all, Charlie ended up flying 35 combat missions over such places as Germany, Czechoslovakia, Norway and France before finally coming back home to Indiana after the war ended.

"It [the party] all kind of tied together, and everything just fit like a favorite pair of jeans," his son, Christopher Ormsby, said. "Kokomo really does roll out the red carpet for one of its own."

And it's that sense of community pride in a member of the Greatest Generation that made VFW member David Sedam take a few minutes out of his Saturday evening to come celebrate Ormsby's life.

"Something like this [the birthday party turnout], that means so much to us veterans," Sedam noted. "You need to just stop and remember what all these men and women fought for over the years. ... I hope people don't ever forget. And when you think about a person being 100 years old, think about what change they have seen over 100 years. Can you imagine?

"So it's nice to celebrate and keep those memories going for the next generation because someday down the road, it's going to go away," he continued. "But this is what's important right now. Tonight, it's all about him. It's all about Charlie."

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