World War II veteran from New Perspective Woodbury hits the 100-year mark

As posted by StarTribune: By Louis Krauss. 

World War II veteran from New Perspective Woodbury hits the 100-year mark

Trained as an Air Force gunner, he’s part of a rapidly shrinking cohort of WWII vets who are still alive. 

Reaching 100 years old has long been a goal for World War II veteran Richard King, but he wasn’t sure he would actually make it.

“I really was sweating out the last six years, and not really saying anything to the kids or my family about it, more or less hoping I would do it,” King said at his 100th birthday party Thursday in Woodbury.

Around 60 people filled a lounge area for King’s party at the New Perspective assisted living facility in Woodbury, including friends and family members. Still, he’s part of a rapidly shrinking cohort — only about 1% of the 16 million Americans to serve in the military during World War II were still living as of 2022.

King didn’t offer secrets to reaching that milestone other than advising, “Don’t smoke, drink or chase women.” But one constant in King’s life has been staying busy, whether it was during his time in the U.S. Air Force as a gunner, or running his business.

He was born in Minnesota on June 5, 1923, and grew up working on farms, but he was always interested in flying planes.

“I read every book there is about airplanes; it became my hobby,” King said.

At his party, posters showed King posing with other military crewmates during the war and with planes. Asked why he joined the military, he said it was to find a way to fly and to get out to see more of the world, not so much a desire to fight.

“I don’t think there were any heroics in there at all. I think it was more or less just a kid off the farm,” he said.

King entered the Air Force in 1943 and spent three years training to be a gunner for B-17 bomber planes and later B-29s. For hundreds of days King and other crew members practiced firing on stationary and moving targets. He said sitting in the planes gave him a sense of comfort that was hard to find elsewhere, and that he was unafraid of going to war.

“I was never scared of it, and I’m not sure why, I always thought I was a coward, but I was never scared in those two planes,” he said.

While stationed in Texas in 1945, King was informed he would be deployed to Japan. As his crew prepared to fly from New Hampshire to Japan, he was told the war was over, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the war he left the military and came back to Minnesota. While flying the bomber planes is among his fondest memories, he said it was a disappointment not getting to join the fight and shoot down enemy planes.

“I think I was let down. I wanted to get over there,” he said.

He would later go on to get a private pilot’s license.

After returning to Minnesota, King spent more than 10 years in the heating and air conditioning business before founding Gladwin Machinery, a metal fabricating equipment company, in 1973.

King went on to have 10 children, 20 grandchildren and 28 great-grandkids.

His oldest daughter, 72-year-old Christine King, described her father as “very outgoing” and someone who stayed active bicycling for many years.

“With the company, he was always the one to talk to the customers. He was the mouth of the bunch,” she said.

About a dozen people congratulated King on his birthday as he ate carrot cake Thursday. Lindsey Marusich, executive director at New Perspective, said his “zest for life” stood out.

“He’s always so happy,,” Marusich said. “When he told me he was 99 when I met him, I didn’t believe him. He looks great for being 100 years old.”

Asked what’s changed in the world over his 100 years, King said he’s come to appreciate more the value of good morals.

“You sort of have to be a good person,” he said. “There are so many things people do, whether it’s smoke or drink themselves to death. People today, if they need anything, they need morals.”