107-year-old Veteran reflects on his extraordinary life
CHAPIN, SC (WIS) - When 107-year-old Cliff Kayhart was a young man, he was first introduced to a radio broadcast and was forever hooked.
100 years later, he is regarded as the worlds oldest ham radio operator.
The walls of his room at the Lowman Home in Chapin bear the postcards of many people from around the world Kayhart has communicated with over the years.
He still remembers the first time he heard the crackle of voices on radio airwaves.
"I didn't notice too much what they were saying, it's the fact that I was hearing a human voice coming out of the air someplace. I became fascinated with it."
Kayhart could never have guessed where that fascination would lead.
He entered the Army’s Signal Corps during World War 2 where his radio engineering skills were in high demand.
He was stationed in Hawaii when a general gave Kayhart orders that would change his life forever.
“He showed me a map on the wall and said, “Do you know what that is? I said ‘Well yes, general it looks like an island someplace.' He said yes it is an island. That’s Iwo Jima.”
Kayhart was sent to the island to set up radio transmitters so the Pentagon could communicate with U.S. forces in the Pacific. Kayhart says he was on a ship just off the Japanese coast as U.S. Troops stormed the beach.
“The Japanese opened up the caves and our soldiers were just mowed down...just mowed down. I won’t get into that. It’s not a nice memory I have.”
Two days after soldiers raised the U.S. Flag on Iwo Jima, Kayhart and his team landed on the island for their mission. Months later as Kayhart prepared to leave, he heard an air raid siren.
“It turned out to be a B-29. A B-29 up there about 35,000 feet but it wasn’t going to land in Iwo Jima. It was headed straight for Tokyo.”
The plane Kayhart saw was none other than the 'Enola Gay', carrying the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. While his experience in the war shaped his life, Kayhart has spent the rest of his days reminding others why it matters.
"I think that people need to know a lot more about history. About the war. About what happened."
Kayhart was the first centenarian to fly on Honor Flight S.C. He also voted in the most recent midterm elections. He said he never misses the opportunity to cast his vote.
He credits his longevity to his calm demeanor, and rarely getting angry. His family says Kayhart has never had a serious illness and does not take medications of any sort.
When asked about the key to long life, he simply answers, "I'm a very lucky person."
But on this veteran’s day, when you think of the freedom Kayhart and his generation preserved, it’s safe to say we’re the lucky ones.
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