By Lindsay Mott
Samuel Garth Branch is just a few years younger than the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. This year the 87-year-old veteran got to see that memorial and others as part of the Honor Flight South Alabama on September 19.
The one-day event took Branch, other veterans and their guardians, including his grandson Travis, from Mobile to D.C. and back. While there, the veterans visited the World War II, Lincoln, Korean War, and Iwo Jima memorials and Arlington National Ceremony.
"It was wonderful," Branch said. "It was touching."
But, for him, it was more than the memorials. It was the support of the people at every stop wishing them well and thanking them for their service. The climax was when they arrived back at Mobile Regional Airport; he was amazed at the number of people in attendance, cheering for them.
"All of that just made the rest of the day better. It was wonderful," he said. "I just thank the people that had anything to do with sponsoring it in any way."
Branch said the WWII Memorial was his favorite because "it was put there for us. It’s very good." He also enjoyed seeing the Lincoln Memorial in person.
"You’ve got a feeling when you are standing there on that floor looking at that big marble statue," he said. He said it was also extra special that he was able to have his grandson with him. They also received mail call from local school children, and he plans to write them all back.
Branch, a native of Pike County, Ala., was drafted into the Army in January 1945, joining the 25th infantry, 35th regiment, at age 20. They served as a mop-up operation and liberation force in the Philippine Islands, he said.
His group was scheduled to be the spear point as American forces invaded the Japanese mainland and were only expected to get about six feet onto land before they were killed. Instead, the United States dropped two bombs that “shortened the war.”
"I thank the Lord for it myself," Branch said. "It would have probably been a sure death for me. I hate that other men had to lose their lives and give the ultimate sacrifice."
His outfit then worked in Japan on guard duty as military police. He got to see the naval base where the Japanese were building human-guided torpedoes and other unique things, he said.
After a visit home from April to August of 1946, he returned to Japan as a private first class and became a jailer at Sugamo Prison, administering the care of 64 Japanese war prisoners. One day he was promoted to corporal and then, the very next day, he was a sergeant.
He became chief jailer and, during his time at the prison, he met (along with getting a photo and an autograph of) Hideki Tojo, Japanese Prime Minister responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and escorted Tokyo Rose during her 1947 release.
Branch was discharged in 1947. He married his wife Voncile in 1949. They moved to their current home in Atmore in 1953. He worked various jobs until getting on at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1966. He then retired in 1986, "and I’ve been working at that ever since," he said. He and Voncile traveled the country from 1987 until around 2003. They have two children, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
With Veteran’s Day this month, Branch said it would be wonderful if people would participate in the activities of the day similar to what he saw from people when they returned to Mobile.
"It needs to be kept up," he said. "I put my flag out and I honor the day."