Jul. 24—This weekend, one of Madison County's very own heroes will be celebrating their birthday.
James Tipton, who fought in World War II, will be turning 98.
When World War II began, Tipton lived in Union City and was helping his father work the family farm. The farm was primarily cattle, but Tipton's family also grew corn.
In 1941, Richmond was beginning a new Ordinance — the Bluegrass Army Depot, or BGAD.
Tipton said he helped to work on BGAD, then decided to join the army.
In December of 1942, Tipton joined the United States Army Air Corps when he was about 20 years old.
"Well, we was fighting," Tipton said when asked why he decided to join the Corps.
He was sent to Indiana to the Induction Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison. He then went to Miami Beach for basic training. He was then sent to Armament school in Denver, Colorado.
"To learn the gun," Tipton explained.
He then volunteered for gunnery and went to Harlingen, Texas, for more training. He then went up to Idaho and was assigned to a crew.
Tipton was a right-wing gunner while in his crew.
In April of 1944, Tipton's last mission, he was a part of a crew who became short of gas during their return flight 40 miles across the English Channel.
"They shortened us 300 gallons; I'd say," Tipton said. "We joined a group we wasn't scheduled to go with and got in too deep. We ran out of gas right on the coast."
Tipton said they lost power in all but one engine, and they had to jump out the camera hatch. Tipton got his Purple Heart because he scraped his leg as he jumped. The area where they had to jump was over enemy territory in France. Once they landed, German soldiers searched them and took them as prisoners of war.
He was taken to Krems, Austria, to STALAG XVII-B.
Tipton was a prisoner of war for 13 months.
On April 8,1945, German guards told the prisoners of war to pack their things and to be ready to move. In groups of 500, the prisoners were forced to march for about 160 miles in 18 days. They were marched two days and rested for one. During the forced march, Tipton said the prisoners of war were always cold and hungry.
"It was hard on a lot of them; they didn't have anything to eat. I had saved some and had something to nibble on," Tipton said. "One of the guys brought in a chicken, and I took over the chicken. I dry-dressed it, cut it up to where it would go into a little pot one of the guys had, and we had chicken."
On the morning of April 26, Tipton said he could hear the sounds of tanks and knew it had to be Americans. The local civilians had told the Americans there were POWs in the woods, and the Germans welcomed the Americans and tried to surrender. However, the POWs and Germans were told they would have to wait for an infantry unit to take them. The next day an infantry unit came to the field, and the POWs were put on a journey back to their home countries.
By the time Tipton was liberated, fighting had ceased.
"It was plum over," Tipton said of the war.
He returned to Madison County and went back to working at the Bluegrass Ordinance, where everything had started for him.
Tipton has lived in his home in Waco since the 1980s.
According to Tipton, ever since Roosevelt took office, he has been going to Waco Baptist Church.
"He's the last surviving male in his Sunday school class. And he's the oldest male member of Waco Baptist Church," Toby Honaker said. "... And he's mighty faithful."
"He's been the best neighbor and a man who has never lost his temper," Irving Whicker, Tipton's neighbor, said.
When asked what his secret to living a long and happy life was, Tipton said there certainly was a secret, and Whicker told The Register just what it was — "being just like you are, a good person."