As events mark 75 years since the deciding battles of World War II, there are not many left who participated or even remember what life was like during the conflict. Two Arizona residents, now in their 90s, are passing along their memories at a Scottsdale retirement community. As part of an occasional series celebrating the so-called Greatest Generation, KJZZ’s Phil Latzman recently visited the two vets to hear their stories of survival and sacrifice.
Rex Prisbey, 97, was a pilot in the Army Air Corps in the China Burma India Theater, commonly known as the CBI — protecting, guarding, charting and supplying personnel and materials for the war front in the Pacific.
Long before computers, Prisbey was the GPS of his time. He said the CBI were some of the unsung heroes of the war “because we were actually the intelligence and so we mapped with photography instead of guns.”
Gene Graham, 94, was also a mapping pilot in Pacific during the war — a living GPS himself, who went to fly 30 years in what would become the U.S. Air Force.
“Our job was mostly taking pictures of targets to be and targets that were,” Graham recalls. “We went in first, we went in last. We went in to see if enough damage had been done to a target to not go back.”
The two nonagenarians, still flyboys at heart and from different parts of the country, didn’t know each other until recently meeting at the Belmont Village community in Scottsdale where they understandably formed an instant bond.
Seventy-five years ago, they were flying separately around Southeast Asia listening for news on the European front.
“Those guys had their problems, we had our problems. We kept our ears to the ground and knew what was going on, but we had a terrible fight in the Pacific to be done yet,” Prisbey recalls of the effort half a world away.
Graham remembers being overwhelmed. “We knew that Hitler was really the one that had to be taken out first. But we knew that we had a great battle ahead of us.”
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