Wellington Daily News
WICHITA — Celebrating a 100th birthday is a milestone in and of itself. Add to that Eddie Graham was a sergeant in the U.S. Army during WWII, and that he was among the 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war in the Philippines after the battle of Bataan and the day is even more special.
Though Tuesday, Sept. 5, is actually his birthday Graham’s family celebrated at Roadhouse Event Center, in Wichita. With family traveling in from all over the country to celebrate the large banquet area provided a comfortable, yet spacious place for the family and friends gathered.
“It’s pretty special to me,” Graham said. “I can celebrate my 100th birthday and I appreciate all the people for being here. It means a lot to me.”
Graham was drafted on March 21, 1941 as a member of the New Mexico National Guard where he was sent to El Paso, Texas for training before being deployed overseas according to a 2015 article in the Hutchinson News.
Graham was sent to the Philippines in September of 1941. As a member of the 201st Artillery Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Graham was stationed about a mile away from one of the two air bases on in the Philippines. Not long after word was received about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers filled the sky over him.
For granddaughter Shelly Tracy, Wellington, Graham is a hero who’s faith helped him through the dark times.
“He was the hardest working person I have met in my life,” she said. “He is brave and has his faith. He is a very faithful man.”
Tracy was also overwhelmed by the amount of family and friends that showed for the party stating how important it was to Graham.
“It was a really big deal, he doesn’t get out a whole lot right now,” she said. “There are so many people from New Mexico, his nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews, that he hasn’t seen in a couple years.”
Wichita Mayor, Jeff Longwell, helped welcome everyone to the event Saturday. Longwell’s sister, Rhonda, assists in caring for Graham. The two have gotten to know each other well over the years and Longwell convinced Graham to share his story with others.
While thanking everyone for attending the ceremony, Longwell shared a favorite story involving Graham that took place on his 97th birthday.
“Obviously he is a hero to us, he has a million stories from when he was serving his country,” Longwell said. “But when he was celebrating his 97th birthday, he got his very first speeding ticket of his life on his way to play bingo. A speeding ticket and gambling was the way he celebrated his 97th birthday.”
This tale filled the room with laughter.
Along with the 100-plus in attendance, the members of Young Marines, honored Graham as honor guards at the door, color guard at the beginning of the ceremony and performed the battlefield cross ceremony for Graham and his family.
“It’s extremely important to get history from an actual source, not from the history books,” Chip Weber, group lead said. “It’s important for all of our young people to actually talk to those who were around during the Korea War, WWII, Vietnam and the current conflict now. They need to talk to the people who are doing it and not put so much stock into the medial and social media and stuff like that.”