As many veterans get ready for Veterans Day on Wednesday, one of southern Illinois’ oldest veterans got a jump start on the celebrating Tuesday.
Gilbert Ledbetter is about to turn 102 years old, but he says his sense of patriotism is only growing stronger with age.
Gilbert was one of the oldest veterans visiting the VA in Marion for its pre-Veterans Day celebration Tuesday afternoon. He says he’s proud to be a veteran now, but it wasn’t always a feeling he had.
"I didn't have that feeling when I was being shot at, you know," said Gilbert.
But he says he’s always glad he served in World War II.
"Well, that's what I was doing. I was around the world, serving. Wherever our army was, I was there, too. We supplied those guys, see. I was on, I think it was five continents," he said.
Even after the war, he said, the Merchant Marines kept him busy traveling everywhere from Asia to Australia. His son, Stephen, says he’s always looked up to his dad.
"I'm very proud of him, he's said that the four years he spent serving his country was the most fulfilling time in his life," Stephen said.
And after celebrating his service, there’s a birthday. Gilbert will be 102 years old Friday.
"I don't have any plans," he said. "I've done everything!" he said.
But Gilbert’s family says they’re planning on surprising him with a special birthday anyway, keeping the celebrations going strong for someone they call "hero."