At 88 years old, Jim York may not be the oldest living veteran in Payson, but he is the oldest veteran that attended the Class of 1968 reunion at Payson High School. York says at 88 he is definitely not slowing down a bit with a grandson, Payson High School basketball player Cody York, to raise and an autobiography to finish.
To his surprise, York was honored in August at the Elks Lodge with an American flag, which was once flown over the U.S. Capitol.
The Payson Military Honor Guard and the Payson High School class of 1968 presented York with the ceremonial flag to be held in trust for the Veteran of the Payson Class of 1968 for his service with the U.S. Navy 63 years ago.
“I didn’t know it would happen, I just showed up for a dinner and dance,” he said of the night he received the flag. “When they said it was for me I started bawling.”
York is the first veteran who attended the reunion to receive the Veterans Flag, but he plans to continue the tradition and have the flag passed down to the next oldest veteran who attended the reunion when he passes away.
The idea to present a flag to a veteran at the reunion was started by Richard Saccuci and his wife Carmina.
“They wanted to make a ceremony so they contacted the Honor Guard and they started this to give to the oldest living member and pass it on,” York said.
Retired U.S. Navy Reserve Cmdr. Kenneth Caldwell and member of the Honor Guard, said this is a new tradition.
“It really is an honor to do this, I consider this the best way to honor a veteran that we can give, to show how much we appreciate them,” Caldwell said.
“It doesn’t matter how long they have served, all lengths of time are sacrifices.”
Although not honored with a flag, Caldwell served 27 years with the Navy.
York served four years with the Navy during World War II, mainly in the South Pacific.
He says he never planned to enter the Navy — he was a happy college student in San Jose partying the days away. When he heard over the radio that Pearl Harbor was under attack, “it turned my world upside down,” he said.
In December 1942, York joined the Navy and moved to Seattle later in the year where he worked in intelligence. He was sent to the South Pacific for his first tour of duty for two years.
“It was a great experience, it went by in a hurry,” he said of that tour.
“The worst part was the food, powdered eggs and potatoes.”
York was briefly shipped back to the states and then sent back to the South Pacific for a second tour. Several months later, he was finally sent back to the states and finished up college with a degree in education in 1946.
Many girlfriends, jobs and parties later, York made his way to Payson in 1957.
“We loved it here,” he said. “It is so small and the people were great.”
York got a job at Payson High School where he taught business and social studies until his retirement.
Looking back on his tour of service, raising seven children and grandchildren and teaching hundreds of students, York said he realized his purpose in life was to raise kids. Tragically, one of York's sons was killed in a hit and run accident years ago, but he says, “As in every life, there is happiness and sadness, but it makes us a better person.”
Today, York keeps the Veterans Flag on his desk where he can look at it daily.
“It is an honor to have this occur, all veterans need to have this occur so they know they are appreciated,” he said.