Local WWII Veterans going on 9 decades of friendship
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are currently an estimated 219,600 WWII Veterans still living today, nationwide.
21,500 or roughly 10 percent of them live in Florida, which is the second-most in the entire U.S.
Two of those veterans, both of whom are over 100 years old, live in the Big Bend and have a friendship that’s lasted nearly their entire lives.
101-year-old Rod Dugger makes up half of that tandem. While he vividly remembers spending his Springs as a kid watching Babe Ruth play baseball, on this March evening, the WWII Veteran is dialed in, watching his great-grandson take the field.
“What do you think about the game so far?” WCTV Anchor Ben Kaplan asks Dugger.
“It started a little against us,” Dugger responds. Then he adds with a smile, “When we got here it was 9-0. But it’s getting better. It’s 9-2 now.”
The scoreboard is the only thing putting a damper on the night. Because everywhere else you look, Daddy Dugger as he’s affectionally called is surrounded by three generations of love.
“He’s just so sweet. He loves to tell stories. He’s just a wonderful man,” Dugger’s granddaughter Wendy Cheney says.
“So thankful, really thankful. It’s certainly a privilege and we recognize it,” according to Morgan Durham, another one of Dugger’s granddaughters.
Down the road a stretch, WWII Veteran Bob Caldwell spends the afternoon holding court with his two daughters discussing everything from his 50 plus years in the St. Paul’s choir...
“You said you could go down low?” Kaplan asks Caldwell.
“I did. I went down very low,” the 100-year-old Caldwell responds to laughter.
To recount piloting a reconnaissance mission marking the beginning of what became the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which altered the course of WWII.
“We ran across a big target and my radio was bad. So, I called my friend from the next sector and my neighbor went up there and got a correct position and they flew up there and sank the big ships of the fleet. There was no fleet left for the Japanese,” Caldwell recalls.
Caldwell’s plane was named the Midnight Micki, named after his wife. She grew up next to the only other WWII Veteran Caldwell says he visits with locally who is still alive today.
“They lived next to each other,” Caldwell says.
“They must have had 7 boys and 2 girls, and I said nobody ever messed with anyone in the MacDonald family,” Dugger remembers.
Yes, that’s Rod Dugger, from earlier in our story. He and Caldwell went to high school together in Mulberry, Florida and then College at Florida Southern. Like Caldwell, Dugger also joined the Navy but spend two years on the USS Lansdale in the Atlantic.
“In the wintertime, when we hit that northern part, that was the roughest water anywhere. Wherever you went, it won’t get any rougher than the North Atlantic,” Dugger recalls.
Like Caldwell, Dugger would become a pilot. And although they never served together, later in life, they’d end up working for the Florida Department of Education, raising families on the same Tallahassee street just two doors apart, and celebrating milestones including Dugger’s 100th birthday in 2020.
“I’ve known Rod from a long time ago. Many years ago. 88 years ago, I figured,” Caldwell said at the time.
Two years later, the pair’s friendship is still going strong for nine decades later.
“That’s pretty crazy when you think about it, huh?” Kaplan asks Dugger.
“Yeah, that’s pretty good. Pretty good. Been friends all these years,” Dugger responds with a chuckle.
A friendship worthy of the amazing legacy the two men will leave behind.
This story is part of WCTV’s It’s Our Honor Series, which airs every Friday at 4:30p. And don’t forget to join the 4p team when they broadcast live from Washington, DC on Monday, April 25th following the return of Honor Flight Tallahassee.
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