JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- A young teenage boy, born and raised in a small, rural farm town in Tennessee, never imagined he would have the opportunity to travel the world.
Enlisting in 1935, retired U.S. Army Maj. Virgil Ward, 96, served in three wars during his 30-year tenure in the military. He was involved in World War II in the 1940s, the Korean War in the 1950s and the start of the Vietnam War in 1965. He also survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
During the World War II era, it was not uncommon for young men to fabricate their age to join the military; however, Ward unintentionally enlisted in the military at age 15.
"I thought I was 17 when I joined the service," Ward said. "My dad always told me I was born in 1917, but when I received my birth certificate 10 years later, I found out the true year was 1919."
The age was never a hindrance, he said. He was more appreciative of the experiences the Army offered him and how far he had come.
"The Army gave me everything, uniforms, three meals a day, a place to sleep, and at the end of the month they gave me a paycheck," Ward said. "I made $26 every payday and [I] thought this was a wonderful thing to have and something good for me, and I wanted to stay with it."
Ward quickly rose through the ranks from private to master sergeant within his first 10 years of service. During this time, he attended a communications, operations and maintenance school and most of this training was with the local civilian telephone company. The Army units were upgrading to automatic dial from manual facilities.
In 1950, Ward was battlefield commissioned to a second lieutenant upon reporting to his duty station in Korea.
"He was on a troop ship going to Japan when Korea broke out and the ship was diverted to Pusan, Korea," said Ward's wife, Merry. "As he [Ward] stepped off the ship and checked in with his unit, the commander said, 'You're going to be the communications officer of this battalion.' That was it. He was promoted to a second lieutenant right on the spot."
"That's how it was back then," Ward chimed in. "I didn't realize what was happening at that time, but I did not question him either. All I said was, 'Yes, sir.'"
During his tenure in Korea, Ward received a Combat Infantry Badge and a Purple Heart for his bravery and valor.
"Ward served in the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam and was a Pearl Harbor survivor," said Merry, who explained how fortunate her husband was to survive all three wars.
"During the time when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was stationed on Fort Ruger, Hawaii, serving as the communication officer," she said. "Before the shootings started, Virgil was waiting to deliver newspapers [it was his second job], to the troops in the barracks when he first saw the planes. He didn't realize it was not our planes until the shooting started. As soon as he found out Pearl Harbor was being attacked, he had to run to get his duty station inside Diamond Head, barely missing the bullets.
"In Korea, he was behind a truck, near the front lines, setting up communication lines from headquarters to the battalion, when a mortar round landed nearby killing a Soldier next to him, Virgil suffered shrapnel in his arms and face, and to this day, he still has shrapnel in both his face and right arm.
"In Vietnam, a day after he left from Saigon, the place where he stayed was struck by a car bomb. The explosion took out the bridge and the side of the hotel in which Virgil had been living. His old room was one that was ruined. He would have been in that room when the explosion occurred as it would have been his down day. He has been very, very lucky [to survive]," she said.
"I'm just one of the lucky ones," Ward agreed softy.
However, even after all that he had endured, he said his life with the military has been wonderful and exciting.
"The level of communication was extremely important during my time of service and I'm very proud and honored to have been a part of this history," he said. "I was stationed overseas 20 years out of the 30 years in service, and I loved every minute of it with no regrets."
"He has itchy feet and loves to travel," Merry said. "And being a Soldier gave him the opportunity to travel the world."
Ward continues to travel and resides in San Antonio. His medical care is at Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC.
"BAMC staff is super," Ward said. "They have treated me like a king. The care here is exceptional and I would not go anywhere else."
"It remains our sacred honor to care for those who have placed themselves in harm's way to ensure our freedoms," said Col. Evan Renz, BAMC commander. "Our World War II veterans have earned a special place of honor and respect within our facility and we welcome them, as well their stories, during each and every visit."
Having survived three wars, Ward knows the meaning of service to country, selfless service, integrity and dedication.
"Do the right thing the first time and go beyond what is asked of you, and you will get where you want to be. Stay focused and be honest," said Ward. "Stay in the military, if you can. It's the best retirement you will ever find."