PROSPERITY, S.C. (WIS) - You have to travel for miles off the interstate to reach 102-year-old Buddy Kunkle’s rural Prosperity home. But it’s worth it.
"I like it… I'm by myself… I sit on the porch… a good bit,” Kunkle said. “I watch the cars go by. A lot of people know me they blow their horn at me.”
Buddy is 102 years old. He was born and raised just three miles down the street in the little town of Prosperity in Newberry County He's gone to the same church his entire life and has spent years on those roadways. But there was a time when he left and wasn't sure he'd ever be back.
“When I went in, I was drafted and I gave it all I had,” Kunkle said. “I did the best I could do. I tried to be a good soldier."
At the age of 25, Kunkle was drafted into the Army during the height of World War II. He trained and traveled all over – from New Orleans to Indiana before he volunteered to go to gunner school. That’s how he found himself inside a B-26 bomber aircraft during World War II.
"Co-pilot was here and pilot was here and I was sitting between them,” Kunkle described as he showed photos of his time inside the aircraft. “And watching the instruments on the plane to make sure everything was right."
Every time they went up, he said, they all knew it was never a guarantee they'd come back down alive.
"It was pretty rough. I can look back and see some of the planes burning and falling you know,” Kunkle remembers. “I didn't think we were gonna make it. Some of them didn't."
Buddy describes the week of Christmas 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, when he flew in seven missions in five days. Two were on Christmas Eve and two were on Christmas Day.
"I was glad when I got my 65 missions in,” he said. “I knew I'd get to come home."
He earned an honorable discharge and went home. Kunkle remembers getting off the train – and spotting a young lady named Amanda. The rest was history.
"I got out of the army June 20, 1945 and I got married June the 14th 1947,” Kunkle said with a smile.
They led a full life in Prosperity, enjoying a 68-year-long marriage with two sons and four grandchildren. Amanda passed away four years ago. Now, Kunkle lives alone. He spends his days gardening in his yard – and it’s a pretty impressive garden at that – and making his way into town to play cards in the afternoon. And yes, he still drives himself. We asked him, what’s your favorite thing in your garden?
"I like Okra…. It's pretty good,” Kunkle said with pride.
And while his garden stretches just a few feet, and his whole world lives within just a few miles, his service stretches thousands.