For Gene Aber, the travels of life have come nearly full circuit as he observed his 90th birthday Wednesday, from growing up in Highland County’s Salem Township near Pricetown, answering Uncle Sam’s call to service in 1951 and then working and retiring in Hillsboro.
“Dad had a little farm out there around Pricetown,” he said. “But I used to scrounge around and do other jobs, trying to earn a few bucks here and there.”
His life on the farm in rural Highland County came to a halt in July 1951 when, at the age of 21, he received a “personal” letter from President Harry Truman at the height of the Korean War, telling him he had been drafted.
“I lucked out and didn’t have to go to Korea,” he said. “They sent me to basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground up in Maryland, and then I went for training to be a mechanic at Camp Gary down at San Marcos, Texas.”
Like most soldiers, he was sweating out his orders, saying he knew full well there was a good chance he’d be sent to the war that was raging on the Korean peninsula.
He said after completing schooling in Texas, many of the men in his unit received orders sending them to California, the embarkation point for transport to Korea, but he instead was ordered to Fort Sill, Okla. to ply his knowledge on keeping small surveillance aircraft in the air.
When the war ended, so did his time in the service and he was discharged while stationed at Fort Sill, although he was still required to serve six years in the reserves.
After serving his country, he returned home to his native Highland County, married Shirley Rose on July 17, 1954, and began a life and a family.
While Shirley kept the home fires burning and helped to raise their four children, Gene went to work at the Hillsboro Manufacturing Company on Moore Road in Hillsboro, working at what came to be known in the community as Moore Drop Forge for 20 years.
From there, he drove to Wilmington, taking a job with Airborne Express before retiring after 13 years.
After 44 years of marriage, Shirley died of cancer in 1998, but Gene said life goes on, and two years later at the age of 70 he remarried.
“I’ve been married to two veterans now,” the former Bessie Ann Prickett said, having been previously married to another Korean War veteran, the late Donald Prickett Jr., who had been vice president of the Leesburg branch of the Hillsboro Bank and Savings Co.
She said Donald passed away the same year as Shirley, and the pair got together at the Leesburg Friends Church.
“Bessie was a lot like that Uncle Sam poster,” Gene joked. “She looked at me and said ‘I want you.’”
The elderly couple now enjoys a quiet life on a quiet street in Hillsboro. Gene said the secret to a long life, in his opinion, is to stay busy doing something enjoyable such as his many years of being involved in antique tractor pulls, distinguishing himself as one of the first antique modified tractor pullers.
Due to failing health, he said he’s had to give the tractor pulls up, but he and Bessie still keep themselves occupied.
“I help her with her cane,” he said, “and she helps me with my walker.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.