SALUTE & CELEBRATE
Phil Breyfogle of Taunton turns 98 today, but he remembers his time serving his country during World War II like it was yesterday.
"I know I was doing things that I didn't want to be doing," he said. "And I remember that I didn't want to be there."
But Breyfogle also admits that had it not have been for his growing frustration with the U.S. Army, he might not have found himself as a young man hunkered in a foxhole with enemy fire being heard all around at night.
"I was working on our dairy farm in Calumet, Iowa," Breyfogle explained. "And I kept getting these questionnaires all the time asking how many cows we had and how many I was milking and things like that. They wanted to make sure I was really needed on the farm instead of being drafted."
Finally, Breyfogle got frustrated and told the Army, "If you want me that damn bad, just take them me then."
And what happened next, Breyfogle was asked.
"Sure enough, they took me," he said, smiling.
Breyfogle was one of 11 siblings. His mother died young and his father needed the help on the farm. Phil's older brother, Pete, was shot and killed in battle during WWII and is buried somewhere in Italy.
"My family got a letter telling us that he had been killed," Breyfogle recalls. "And three or four days after that, I got a letter from Pete that he had written me before he was killed."Breyfogle was 22 years old when he was drafted and ended up in basic training in Fort Hood, Texas.
He then served from 1944-46 in Okinawa as a troop replacement after the invasion.
"We were on the other side of the island from where the fighting was going on," he said. "You could hear the bombs going off on the other side. Where we were was a beautiful unfounded part of the island."
"As soon as it got dark every night, we would hear gunfire around us. They didn't want us to know where it was coming from, so they waited until dark. During the daytime, there were always Japanese planes flying overhead. I was never shot at that I recall, but some of my buddies didn't make it."
"The Japanese military camps were located in caves on the island. When the Americans located the enemy, they used flamethrowers to chase them out."
When Breyfogle was discharged, he found out when he got home that his younger brother Darrell was stationed in the same area that he was.
"I didn't know it at the time I was there," said Phil. "So I never got to see him over there."
Today, Breyfogle is one of approximately 389,000 veterans alive from nearly 16 million Americans who served in World War II.
Of Breyfogle's 10 siblings, only he and two others are still alive; Phil, 98; Franz, 96; and Darrell, 94. Franz also lives in Taunton, while Darrell resides in a senior living facility in Canby.
Phil has been married to his wife Marjorie for 63 years. When asked how he was able to stay married for so many years, a slight grin emerged from his face before he spoke.
"We didn't have enough money to get a divorce," he said with a laugh as Marge rolled her eyes.
The Breyfogles have eight children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
In a time when there are only a few World War II veterans still alive, Breyfogle remains in relatively good health. His voice is strong and he gets around without a walker, cane or wheelchair as most his age use.
"He had a stroke this past February," Marge noted. "He fried some eggs for breakfast and then sat down in his chair. I could see his eyes watering and his mouth drooping a little. And I asked him if he was okay and he couldn't talk."
So Marge called the ambulance.
"He wouldn't let them take him to the ambulance," Marge said. "He couldn't talk, but he motioned them away and got out of his chair and walked all the way outside and laid on the (gurney)."
Breyfogle was in the Canby Hospital for eight days, but is now doing well.
So what is his secret to a long life? No drinking or smoking? Eating healthy? Exercising?
"Just lucky," he said, shrugging his shoulders.