JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Walking around the Arlington area in Jacksonville, you may see a 93-year-old man in a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and boots. If he’s not wearing one of his many Stetsons, he’ll likely have on a black hat with the words “World War II Veteran” written on it and a few pins: one of them reads The Greatest Generation.
Richard "Cowboy" Stacy served in the deadliest war in history. The Second World War lasted six brutal years destroying more property and land around the world than any other war. Three of those years Stacy flew missions over Germany. In 1943, at age 19, after years of training horses in Coleman, Texas, the cowboy left his cattle behind and joined the Army Air Corps.
"They put me in a training camp in Gulfport, MS,” Stacy said. “And they trained me as an armored gunner. That's what I was. An armored gunner on a B-17. They shipped me over to Foggia, Italy. We knocked the dickens out of ole' Hitler's railroad yards. That's what we were bombing. We weren't bombing people. We just sat there and waited for them to make their move if they came in they got shot at."
His mission abroad was to protect loved ones back home. Stacy kept his mind clear and focused on winning the war while wary of getting too close to members of his 10-man crew.
"You never have a real friend because you never know when you're going to lose ‘em,” Stacy said. “That's the way I looked at it."
Some estimates of the number of people who died during the six-year war are as high as 85 million.
"I feel like I'm a lucky son of a gun,” Stacy said. “God's taken care of me and let me live this long."
He can still name all of the members of his crew but whether or not he's the last man standing now at age 93, Stacy doesn't know.
"I know my pilot is gone and I have no idea about the rest of ‘em,” Stacy said.
There are things he simply can't recall and some memories he chooses to forget. But the end of the second world war he remembers that vividly.
"We were coming in one day suiting up and getting up and they said the war is over, the war is over,” Stacy said. “That's the way it ended. I do remember I was glad because I knew I was going to get to go home."
Home to his family and horses.
"I've trained ain't no telling how many horses with that hat,” said the cowboy with his hat in hand. “The hat is the most important thing a cowboy has. He uses it to get a horse’s attention real quick."
But there's one topper that now tops them all; his World War II hat adorned with a pin that reads The Greatest Generation.
"It means I'm in a special category that ain't nobody gonna get in unless they been there," said the cowboy.