When Villager Irving Locker was drafted into the Army straight out of high school and later stormed Utah Beach on D-Day, he could never have imagined that one day he’d be recognized by the president of the United States.
But that’s exactly what happened last week during President Trump’s State of the Union address when he singled out Locker and two other WW II veterans to thank them for their service. Several days later, after the whirlwind trip to our nation’s capital and back, it still hasn’t fully sunk in.
“When they called me, it was just a matter of they’re going to honor some WW II people,” said Locker, who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was in the march along the Elbe River near Berlin. “They’ll pay for me to come to Washington. I really didn’t give it much thought.”
But that all changed when the 94-year-old Village of El Santiago resident and his wife, Bernice, arrived in Washington, D.C.
“We were surrounded by police and FBI and Secret Service,” he said. “They put us up at the (Grand) Hyatt Hotel.”
Still, Locker wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when he headed into the gallery area of the House of Representative’s Chambers with first lady Melania Trump.
“At that particular minute, they said to me, ‘If the president calls your name, you can either stand or sit, either one is OK,’” Locker said. “I had no idea whatsoever that they were going to call my name and do that.”
But once the former Army staff sergeant who oversaw four 90mm guns heard President Trump single him out in front of the members of Congress and millions upon millions of television viewers, he knew what he had to do.
“I jumped up with my hand up,” Locker said with a huge smile. “It was amazing.”
Bernice was watching the event from the nearby Eisenhower Executive Building with other family members of the veterans and those being honored by the president. And even though wasn’t in the gallery area with her husband, she said the experience was quite wonderful.
“They treated us like royalty, the Secret Service and the Marines that are on that detail,” she said. “Those young Marines stood there and they were all as sweet as could be. The staff was wonderful. They took such good care of all of us.”
Another huge highlight of the day, Locker said, was the trip to the Oval Office to speak personally with the president, the first lady and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.
“I told the president that he’s on the top of my list because he gave up so much,” Locker said. “He had the world in his hands and he gave it up to help make this country great. Look at the abuse he’s taking, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
Locker, who made a trip back to Normandy in 2014 for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, said he also told Trump the American people are lucky to have him as their president.
“Who else would do it?” Locker asked. “He doesn’t sleep at night. They talk about the fact that he maybe sleeps four hours because he’s got so much going on in the country and in the world.”
Locker, who also who helped liberate the Gardelegen concentration camp near the end of the war, added that he believes Trump was elected at just the right time.
“We need a businessman to run this country,” he said. “This is a big business, with all of the different departments and facilities and all of the different headaches.
“I am a businessman, so I fully understand that you don’t sleep at night because they’re so many different things going on at the same time.”
Sitting in the dining room of their home this weekend, Bernice said she couldn’t be prouder of her husband of 70 years, who was heralded by his commanding officers more than once for watching out for the men who served under him during some extremely difficult battles and campaigns so many years ago.
“I think he’s an amazing man for all that’s he’s done,” she said of Locker, who is known in The Villages for the presentations he gives to area clubs and groups and his charitable work to help disabled veterans. “He can still get out and Jitterbug and do ballroom dancing. And he has a very positive, upbeat attitude. We both have that. We’ve been blessed and we have a wonderful life.”