A very dear friend, 95-year old World War II Veteran, Ralph Watkins passed away on Oct. 28, 2020. For several years we were Whataburger breakfast buddies and I enjoyed his tales of service in the Pacific during the war.
Virtually every morning diners would stop by to shake his hand and thank him for his service. He was humbled but honored they would see his veterans cap and acknowledge him.
Dodie and I would also visit him at his home and towards the end through a window outside his hospice bedroom. Among the last things he smiled and said was “tell them I didn’t die of that damn COVID!”
With this article, I’m making good on his request.
Read “Whataburger With Ralph” by clicking here.
Earler today I ran across this picture:
It reminded me of Ralph, my own grandfather, other friends and brave family members and all of our veterans. We owe so much to their service and sacrifice to protect and save our precious freedoms.
A few years ago I was changing planes at Dallas Love Field when I saw a crowd of people, some visibly crying and emotional, walking away from windows overlooking some sort of ceremony at the Southwest Airlines gates down below.
I was in a hurry, but asked a bystander what was going on.
“A Vietnam veteran is coming home,” the kind lady said, gently waving a small American flag towards me.
I gave a quick salute and hurried on to my connecting flight.
Last week, going through some old files, I found a note to remind myself of the “Vietnam veteran coming home.” Here are the results:
The Veteran was Col. Roy Abner Knight Jr. who as a pilot in 1967 was shot down and his body had only been recently found and identified.
A notable part of this story was Col. Knight said goodbye to his family at Love Field 52 years prior. His son, Bryan, was only 5 years old when he left to serve our country in Vietnam.
Bryan Knight grew up to be a Captain for Southwest Airlines. It was he who flew the plane that brought his father’s remains home back to the same airport where they said what would be their final farewells.
Capt. Knight touched down on the tarmac while a crowd of onlookers, who had been informed about the powerful moment over airport intercom, watched in awe from the terminal.
Right before my plane arrived, hundreds of people were watching in silence as the flag-draped casket of the fallen airman was taken off the jet.
Col. Knight served as a clerk typist in the Philippines, Japan and Korea before attending Officer Candidate School in 1953. He married his wife, Patricia, after being commissioned a 2nd Lt., and the pair had three children together, Roy III, Gayann and Bryan.
Col. Knight then served as a fighter pilot in Germany and France before returning to Texas with his family in 1963 to become an instructor pilot. He was called to serve in the 602nd Tactical Fighter Squadron during the Vietnam War in 1966 and reported to Southeast Asia in January 1967. There, he flew combat missions almost daily until being shot down in Laos on May 19 of the same year.
Col. Knight’s body was not recovered because of the hostile location where his plane crashed, and he was declared dead by the Air Force in 1974.
He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and six Air Medals for his actions, his obituary states.
Col. Knight’s family remained without closure until February 2019, when his remains were recovered by personnel assigned to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and identified with the help of dental records.
The veteran’s casket was flown home by his youngest son to be buried with full military honors in Weatherford, Texas.
One article reported Southwest Airlines said they were “honored to support [the veteran’s] long-hoped homecoming and join in tribute to Col. Knight as well as every other military hero who has paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the armed forces.”
“Earlier this year, Captain Knight learned that his father’s remains were positively identified which began the mission of returning Col. Knight to his home in North Texas,” the company explained. “Today, his son flew his father home to Love Field where he was received with full military honors to express a nation’s thanks for his Dad’s service to our country.”
We are thankful to our incredible sponsors!
Please Support These American Owned Businesses
Get Your Natural Vitamins A & D from the Sea!
Such beautiful stories of very brave men, Jack and Dodie. I’m so sorry for your loss. I have the utmost respect for our vets and honor them from the bottom of my heart. ❤
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thank you. Ralph is one of the last members of that amazing generation who considered it their duty and honor to fight for our beloved country.
My Grandfathers had passed away long before I was born, so it was a privilege for me to unofficially adopt Ralph as my own. Both Jack and I sat spellbound as he told us stories of how it was ‘back then’. It was difficult to determine what we enjoyed most about Ralph – his sharp wit, ready smile, or twinkling blue eyes that seemed to light up the room wherever we were. We also honor, value and respect all Veterans who sacrificed so much for our freedoms. They don’t make ’em like that anymore – they will definitely be missed. God Bless each and every one of them!
LikeLiked by 1 person