On October 16, World War II veteran Floyd Brantley turned 93 years young, and is still dancing through life.
Floyd Brantley was a U.S. Navy Pharmacist Mate Second Class, stationed in the Solomon Islands during World War II. He also served in the Korean Conflict as a Navy Medic and in the Air Force Reserves at age 50 as a cook stateside during the Vietnam War.
“In the military, you grow up fast,” he says. “There’s a lot of discipline and a lot to be proud of. I believe in teaching patriotism in schools.”
The nonagenarian is a vibrant, happy soul who doesn’t buy into the concept of getting older and slowing down. He reflects with ease, recalling the best moments of a life well spent.
Also in October, he completed the 15-mile Big Dam Bridge bicycle race (and it wasn’t the first time), and is proud he wasn’t last in the pack.
“I did get passed by a 2-year-old,” he laughs, explaining a mother was riding with a child. “But I wasn’t last. I mean, I didn’t pass anybody, but I wasn’t last!”
Floyd says his reason for signing up for the Navy was personal, as his brother was killed in action during World War II.
“My brother was 19 when he was killed during the Battle of Guadalcanal,” Floyd says. “When told my mother [I was enlisting], I was 18 years old and had a year left of high school. She said she had already lost one son and didn’t want me to go. I know she wanted me to finish school, and I promised her I would.”
And he did. Floyd returned from war and was one of only three of 13 who returned to his town to graduate at his high school in Lufkin, Texas, at age 20. He ended up going to Baylor University and earned his teaching and business degrees.
He taught math and science in public schools but struggled to make a living. He accepted a text-book sales job for Simon & Schuster, and he was required to live in Arkansas to cover his territory. He worked in the job for 25 years and remained in the Reserves.
Floyd and wife, Elizabeth, now live at College Square in Conway, and although his wife has some health issues that prevent her from traversing town with him, he takes every opportunity to show her photo around and beams at the “lucky” man he is.
“I married a good woman and have a good family. I had a good job,” he says. “I served my country. I finished school like I told my mother I would. I’ve been retired now longer than I worked. Life is good.”
Floyd takes every opportunity to travel globally. His son, Charles, is an airline pilot and that helps.
“I like to travel,” he says. “I love history and I read a lot. I think that is one thing I took away from my service.
“When you’re overseas, life is different. When I was overseas, I was homesick and I just kept telling myself I would love to see America again, to see the American coast. I was so happy the first time I saw the American coast, coming home from war on a ship. It was thrilling.
“Now, I travel every chance I get. I even won a trip once to Germany and England. I stay active and have done lots of mission trips to China, Russia and volunteered with the Red Cross. In Russia, I gave a man shoes, clothes and a Bible. He cried. My translator told me he was crying because he had never received a gift in his life. It is experiences like that that keep me going.”
Floyd’s life lessons are gems he doesn’t mind sharing. He is a believer in God and Country and has spent the last few decades telling his story.
“... Even for my grandkids, if I could emphasize the importance, first of all their relation to God, … then the relation to the freedom we have in the United States of America. For them, if it is the will to fight for it, to work for it, to do whatever it is, to promote our form of government and try to encourage youngsters in the future generations because we have lost so much and we can lose more unless we are willing to work and study and fight for it,” he told a historical interviewer in 2007. “There are mistakes I made, oh yes, but you look back and say you can’t thrive on the mistakes. Just look forward and try correcting and do the best you can in your personal life and your spiritual life. … I don’t know how long the Lord has got me here but I think there is a purpose for every life.”