This post was originally posted in the November 2020 issue of Mature Living.
As Veterans Day 2019 approached, Stu Vessey joined 120 Washington state veterans and chaperones for a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. He traveled with his daughter Susan from his home in suburban Seattle for a 21/2-day adventure, compliments of Puget Sound Honor Flight. This unique nonprofit organization exists to provide an all-expenses-paid trip to our nation’s war memorials for all veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
It was a trip Stu savored with every ounce of his being. I know how this 90-year-old reacted because I was on the same trip. It was my privilege to be the chaperone for Zip Zuther, a resident at the retirement home where I serve as chaplain.
As we waited to be welcomed aboard the flight, Zip recognized Stu in the boarding area of Sea-Tac Airport. He told me they had both volunteered at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as retirees years before. Zip wanted me to meet his good friend.
As I reached out to shake Stu’s hand, he looked at my nametag. “I know who you are,” he said with a smile. “You write articles for Mature Living. In fact, you have preached at our church where my son-in-law is the pastor.”
When I picked myself up off the floor, I engaged Stu in conversation. I asked him what military branch he’d served in. “Air Force,” he replied. “But that’s the short answer. My story is a bit more complicated than that.”
Stu began to tell me about his most interesting life. He had been born in England to a British father and an American mother. In the fall of 1939, his innocent childhood was interrupted by the German bombing raids of London. Because food was scarce and lives were at risk, Stu’s parents made the difficult decision to split up the family. At the age of 11, Stu was separated from his mom and dad and two brothers. Sadly, the whole family would never be united again.
Stu’s allegiance to America was second only to his loyalty to his heavenly Father.
When Stu was 14, he convinced a Royal Naval officer to sign that he was older and enlisted in the British Royal Naval Cadets. Come June 6, 1944, Stu was one of the 156,000 Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy. “What I witnessed on that bloody beach was unimaginable,” Stu confessed. “Seventy-six years have not erased that horrific memory.”
The Honor Flight weekend had not even begun, and my patriotic heart was already beating double time by my new friend’s account. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Noticing my amazement, Stu added, “Most people don’t realize that of the 16 million who served in World War II, over 6,000 were 14-to 17-year-olds.”
Following the war, Stu immigrated to Canada where, as a 17-year-old, he responded to an invitation to attend an evangelical church. Several months later, he was able to move to Texas where his mother and a brother had settled. While in Texas, he heard the gospel again, and two years later he accepted Christ. It was in the Lone Star State where Stu met the woman who would be the love of his life for the next 53 years. He later joined the Texas National Guard.
When the Korean War began, President Truman signed a bill that decreed resident aliens could be drafted. To prevent that possibility, Stu joined the Air Force so he and his wife could hopefully be together wherever he was stationed. That post ended up being in France. Stu’s allegiance to America was second only to his loyalty to his heavenly Father.
Returning to the States following his discharge, Stu went to work for Boeing and the Saturn space program, eventually settling in Seattle. Along the way, he joined the Gideons International.
“Placing God’s Word in schools, hospitals, prisons, and hotel rooms was deeply satisfying to me,” Stu admits. “It’s a reminder to me that I am still part of the Lord’s army fighting for the ultimate freedom a person can experience.”
Knowing Stu’s love of God and country, it came as no surprise that he had packed Gideon New Testaments to give to fellow veterans over the course of a weekend neither of us will ever forget.
About the author:
GREG ASIMAKOUPOULOS is the chaplain of Covenant Shores Retirement Community in Mercer Island, Washington. He is the author of 10 books, including Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life published by eChristian.