(Editor’s Note: Dr. Don Newbury is former president of Howard Payne University in Brownwood and is well known to many Abilenians. Newbury writes a weekly column that is syndicated in 200 newspapers. He graciously is sharing those with readers of Spirit of Abilene.)

The Idle American

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Most veterans stand proudly on annual dates they’re honored, springing to their feet when their military branches are introduced and their “fight songs” played in musical medleys. Ken Kelley, however, squirms a little, wondering what others think of his standing repeatedly during tributes to four U. S. military branches.


Dr. Don Newbury

Yep, in just 20 years, this 81-year-old Pampa, Texas, native was in harness with the Marine Corps Reserves, the U. S. Navy, the U. S. Army and finally, the U. S. Air Force.

He faced life “head-on” as each decision for military service was made, just as he does now. With serious health issues looming, he has opted for chemo, hopefully extending his life by a few months….

Even now, he’s a man of good cheer–full of faith–continuing to claim happy memories of a fulfilling life of love in his family, service to his country and helpfulness to his neighbors.

Since his years in military service, he’s worked at airports, in construction and for Arlington Classics Academy. In retirement, he has been the “go to” guy for family and friends, and his workshop has hummed. With lawns to mow, wishing wells to build and assorted carpentry to do, he has been a busy man until the last year or so.

Reflective and positive, he’s grateful for a full life, as is Alice, his wife of 55 years….

So what’s with these four “trial runs” in four military branches?

Taken in context, his decisions were fairly simple. At Pampa High School, where he graduated in 1958, Ken spent two years in the Marine Corps reserve. “Two summer training sessions climbing rope ladders onto ships convinced me to try another branch, so after high school, I joined the Navy,” he said.

He served four years on the USS Nereus, achieving Petty Officer 2nd Class status. Upon discharge, he sought work in Amarillo….

Unable to find suitable employment, he joined the Army for three years, serving with the First Ordinance Battalion and then the 31st Combat Engineer Battalion. Assigned to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, he met and married Alice. In 1964, he could “re-up” or “opt out,” and he chose the latter. Had he re-enlisted, he would have wound up in Viet Nam, where his battalion experienced an 85 percent casualty rate.

For his final 13 military years, he served in the Air Force, assigned to numerous bases throughout the world. Mostly, he was a ground handler for machines used on aircraft and in the transportation department. They spent two years in frigid Goose Bay, Labrador.

“When the temperature got up to zero, we let our daughter go outside to play,” Ken joked. (They have one daughter, Chantel, and a son, Todd.) They found their time in Guam to be far more pleasant….

Kelley puts me in mind of Dr. Kenneth Ashworth, longtime Commissioner of Higher Education in Texas. Upon retirement, he taught part-time–simultaneously, I might add–at both the University of Texas in Austin and at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Ever the statesman, Ashworth had cards printed, A&M with maroon background on one side, and UT with an orange background on the other. Kelley, too, is stoic. He refuses to be other than optimistic and full of faith. No way he’d ever have cards printed, though. I mean, where would he ever find four-sided cards, one for each of his stints in military service?

As he deals with health issues, Kelley also reminds me of a long-ago friend who also faced a health crisis. “I’m prepared for the probable and praying for the unlikely,” my friend always said. It’s the same for Ken and Alice, quietly living at peace with abiding faith in their Burleson, Texas, home, prepared for whatever comes next. Inspirational verses hang on walls throughout the Kelleys’ home. One is particularly noted: “Love is spoken here. Joy is chosen here. Grace is given here.”….

Dr. Don Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: newbury@speakerdoc.com Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.


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