WILLIAMSBURG — On Sunday, Nov. 20, retired veteran Joe Powers turns 102 years old, and Wednesday, Verena at the Reserve, the independent living community where Powers is currently living with his wife, hosted a birthday party in celebration.
Over cake and punch, residents gathered to celebrate the birthday man, and in an interview with WYDaily, Powers shared a little of his life story and what it was like for him growing up.
Powers was born in 1920 during the gilded age in America, five miles from the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee where he lived in poverty with his parents and siblings. He and his family often moved for his father’s work as a bookkeeper.
“He was an old-time bookkeeper. He might work in one business for a day or two and get their books straight or he might work at some place for six months but we traveled a lot,” Powers recalled as he looked fondly over a prized photo of him and his siblings taken when he was just 4-years-old.
Powers lived in various states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri until he was about 16 years old, when he decided he wanted to get away from that life and joined the military. He was immediately sent overseas.
After trying to find openings in the Philippines and Hawaii, Powers was accepted for a two-year enlistment in Panama. There, Powers took his basic training as well as training as a radio operator and with B-18 aircraft, and he was there at the beginning of World War II.
Powers moved often during the war, including stays in Ecuador for a year and Italy for six months, primarily working with bombers. When the war ended, he was discharged and assumed he would move on with his life.
Or so he thought. Powers attempted to go back to school but struggled. When his savings ran out and the G.I. bill wasn’t enough for him to live off of, he ended up back in the service.
Now with the Air Force again, Powers found himself in Japan specializing in Field Operational Intelligence, and later as a Photo Analyst. He would stay in Japan for three years before finally coming back to the United States and retiring from military service.
Powers entered civil service, working for a variety of government agencies, and met his wife and started a family. He also went back to school, served in Korea, and then worked civil service until 1973 when he retired and moved east with his wife to the Washington, D.C. region in 1974.
In 2016, Powers and his wife moved to Williamsburg in order to be closer to their children. He plans to celebrate his actual birthday with his daughter and son-in-law, eating out and enjoying time together as a family.
Powers imparted one final piece of advice on what it’s like to live to his age.
“People are always grabbing for money, or something like that now. I look back at the days, 30s, 40s, and I think we aren’t going to get back to those days and I don’t want to be back in the 30s or 40s with war,” he said. “But it looks like we’re drifting into one now. I don’t know which it will be with, China or Russia but one of those. But… I wish everybody could go through what I did, and people my age did, then maybe we’d have a better country.”