ST. GEORGE — It would be easy to mistake Wally Humphreys for Audie Murphy or James Doolittle.

Humphreys, a St. George resident since 1993, flew dangerous combat and medical missions in three different wars, was a sheriff’s deputy in Weber County and taught the next generation of service members in the National Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Except Wally did one thing most American World War II heroes did not do: he made it to his 100th birthday.

Friends and family gathered at the Rib & Chop House Restaurant last Saturday evening to eat and celebrate Humphreys’ 100th birthday.

“I never dreamed it would be like this,” Humphreys told St. George News, noting that dear friends and family from around the state surprised him with the celebration. “I really didn’t expect all these people.”

A portrait of Wally Humphrey checks out his 100th birthday presents, St. George, Utah, Feb. 17, 2024 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

Humphreys flew combat missions in World War II and Korea, then switched to medical helicopters in Vietnam, where he flew wounded soldiers off the line. Throughout his time in Vietnam, he rescued 87 service members.

“All together I was 34 years wearing the uniform,” Humphreys said.

Asked if he had some kind of guardian angel looking over him, Humphreys said that it’s not like he went unscathed in all those missions.

“I was lucky,” he said. “I did lose two airplanes. I was shot up pretty bad over Taiwan. Made it back to Northern Luzon (Philippine Islands) and had to be ready to belly it in with one engine. Had no (landing) gear and it was on a dirt strip.”

Humphreys flew fighters in World War II and Korea and at first balked at the idea of flying helicopters.

“It was devastating,” he said. “I went in and saw the boss and pulled off my wings and I didn’t want anything more to do with it.”

But in the end, Humphreys did what he always did: answered the call.

“If it had to be done, I’d go,” he said.

After all these years, Humphreys said there’s nothing that he really misses about flying.

“I think the kind of flying I did was not conducive to longevity,” he said.

He added that the memories from his service during wartime don’t fade.

“They stay fresh in mind,” Humphreys said. “They just don’t go away.”

(L to R): Winnie Iverson, Wanda Millhouse, Joanne and Jack Peck, otherwise known as the breakfast club, celebrate Wally Humphreys’ 100th birthday, St. George, Utah, Feb. 17, 2024 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

After his military service, Humphreys worked as deputy to former Sheriff George Fisher in Weber County.

“That was an eye opener, I tell you what, that was one of the best experiences I think I’ve ever had,” Humphreys said. “I learned a tremendous amount of things that I never ever dreamed about. So anybody that likes to know what’s going on, all you got to do is be a deputy.”

After he retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force, Humphreys remained active through working with the Navy Junior ROTC and spending time with friends and family. He said his secret to a long life is obvious.

“I think it’s all good medical care,” he said. “It’s got to be that. In 1999 I had five bypasses, and of course, I have a pacemaker. But my heart is good. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to die from a heart attack.

“The only thing I do is take a baby aspirin every day,” he added. “One day at a time. That’s the way it’s always been for me.”

Humphreys is part of a weekly breakfast club that includes Wally’s wife Maria and his brother Gary.

“It’s building now. We get more and more,” Humphreys said. “They all like to join our happy throng.”

Winnie Iverson is one of the newer breakfast club members and she was at the 100th birthday party, as were most of the other members.

“We can’t believe Wally is that old. He is amazing,” Iverson said. “He is just so totally amazing to be so alert and so active. He’s just special.”

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