‘A living history book’: WWII veteran turns 100 years old

MILFORD — Veterans Day is a little sweeter this year for John Lucius Deloach and his family.

Red, as he affectionately became known thanks to the color of his hair, turned 100 Tuesday, Oct. 26, with a celebration to make any centenarian proud.

Generations of family members gathered inside the Delaware Veterans Home in Milford where Mr. Deloach resides to honor his life and celebrate what is to come.

Legislators, local military members and youth military groups also attended the event.

After surviving the Great Depression while living in Florida as the second-youngest child of nine in his family he went on to dedicate more than a quarter of his life to the United States through military service while being stationed in England, France and Germany.

“The Depression came after World War I. You know? It started in and we had a boom after the war and we went into the Depression. So, I was young, what the hell, you know? I had played ball and. . . I played all of them. Football, baseball, basketball… The one I didn’t play much was tennis, very little tennis. Where we lived was on a corner more or less. And there was a big tennis court right across the street, but I never cared about tennis much.”

He did care a lot about his family and country, though. He knew serving in the military was not only a way out of the Depression for him, but also a way to help raise a successful family of his own.
“It was 1935. I was 15 years old,” he said with a smile.

When asked how he was able to enter military service at such a young age, he said slyly, “I told them I was 18. I lied to them.”

According to the state of Delaware Senate Tribute offered at his birthday party, Mr. Deloach served with the Florida Army National Guard, U.S. Army, Army Air Corps and retired from the U.S. Air Force as chief master sergeant.

Despite entering the service as a young teenager, he would soon prove himself a valuable member of the crew. He served in 26 bombing missions in World War II while working as a top turret gunner out of the “little glass bubble” atop the planes, according to his granddaughter Alison Rose.

Altogether, he served in the military for more than 27 years before retiring.
“It was a fair piece,” he recalled.

A tribute from the Delaware House of Representatives adds that he participated in the Berlin Air Lift mission along with numerous other essential flying assignments during his time in the service.
“He was a part of the first group of Air Force NCOs to achieve E-8 and E-9,” it continued.

Proclamations honoring a century of life.

“I loved it. I was crazy,” Mr. Deloach said of his time in the service. “It was good, you know. Hey, they treated you good. What the heck. They fed you, too. And the pay was good.

“When they drafted people in the service during the war, they went in at $50 a month. Before, they went in at $21 a month. Everything outside was equivalent to that. You could have a few beers.”

Toward the end of his service, Red passed on his knowledge to newer service members as an instructor and taught on topics such as aircraft hydraulic systems.

“It’s important to me because there was a retirement at the end of it. That’s one thing. The pay wasn’t that bad. For the time, the pay was pretty good. I liked it. I liked the service,” he said.

“The people above me were nice people. The Air Force took good care of us and these people took good care of us.”

During his service he met a girl named Ruth while at a dance. She would become his wife, the love of his life for more than 50 years before she died in 2001 at the young age of 81.
“My parents are dead. My brothers and sisters are all dead. I’m the only one left out of nine.

“So, the world’s not completely nice to me on that account. Both of my daughters are gone, too,” he recalled.
But his granddaughter was able to put a different spin on life during a recent visit.

“You’re a tough cookie,” she said to him.
“Well, mentally, anyhow,” he agreed. “You have to be a little tough mentally or you wouldn’t make it. I suppose you’re right.”
“After all, life at 100 years old isn’t all that bad,” he said with a chuckle.

“I think it’s terrific. Everything. I retired. That means I don’t have to work anymore. I have a good income, so what the heck,” he said. “My most favorite thing in the world? Right now?
“Seeing some of the relatives who come see me, that’s the most important thing to me. . . And chocolate is second.”

To keep the light shining in Mr. Deloach’s room, Ms. Rose visits often along with her two sons who are 13 and 9 years old.
“It’s amazing. He’s like a living history book,” she said. “And military is real big in my family. My dad was career Army. My baby brother is in the Marines. We’re definitely proud of everything he did for the country.

“To have the kids so close to him, hear things they would normally only get from a book, it’s pretty cool,” she said.

“Most kids don’t get to know their great-grandpa. It’s hard to wrap my head around that and everything he’s been through.”

Life for Mr. Deloach has been busy thanks — only in part — to his military service. There may have been some moonshine involved and a few drunken hogs, he said with a laugh. But that’s all he would say about that.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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