Memorial Day is a time of remembrance, a time of reflection, and a time to honor those that have served this nation wearing the uniform of the various armed services. Each of those reasons apply to retired U.S. Air Force Col. Paul D. Floyd.
This past Saturday one other reason was added by his family, friends and neighbors. This World War II fighter pilot and former German POW celebrated his 90th birthday.
"With all this attention I'm going to shoot for 100," Floyd said sitting at a table in the banquet room of the Old Country Buffet on Richmond Highway where he and his friends gather daily for lunch. In front of him was a round spice cake with two candles — one on top of a nine and the other perched on a zero.
Born in Kentucky, as America enter World War I, and raised there and in Ohio, Floyd joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 24 in 1941, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and served in the European Theater. Flying a P-47 fighter over France shortly after D-Day he was shot down and became a prisoner of the Germans.
"I was flying so low I could see the leaves on the trees. Then I was hit. I bailed out, but because of my altitude and the plane's speed I hit the tail and broke my leg in three places. I pulled the rip cord, the parachute opened and I immediately hit the ground," Floyd recalled.
"It's funny but when the adrenaline is rushing you really don't feel pain. I got rid of my parachute and was crawling toward a farm house, dragging my broken leg, when all of a sudden I was staring at a pair of black, shiny boots," he said.
"I looked up and there was a German officer with his pistol pointed at me. I don't know why he thought he had to hold a gun on me. It was obvious I was no threat to anyone in my condition," Floyd said.
"I was taken to a German field hospital, but didn't get any treatment for a couple of days until I demanded it. They set the leg and, overall, I was treated very well by the Germans. Not like I would have been treated if I had been in the Pacific theater and fallen into the hands of the Japanese," he said.
"We were moved around a lot as the Germans retreated from the Allied invasion. Then I woke up one morning and the Germans were gone. Soon after that the Americans showed up and liberated us," Floyd recalled.
Unfortunately, his leg had not been set properly in the German field hospital. So, when he got to the American hospital they had to re-break and reset it. After it healed the second time he got back on flying status.
"But, I was used to those types of accidents. I raced motorcycles when I was young. I probably should have been dead even before the Air Force," he stated.
FOLLOWING THE WAR, Floyd remained in what became the U.S. Air Force, retiring from active duty in 1961. During his post-war military years he flew P-51s in air shows and was transferred to MATS (Military Air Transport Service) flying cargo planes.
"I volunteered for Korea but was turned down because I had been a POW. I don't know what their rationale was but it was probably for the better because our planes were very vulnerable at the outset of that war until we got our jet fighters," he said.
After leaving the military, Floyd became a pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration, flying the administrator around the world. He and his wife, Evelyn, plus their three children moved to Waynewood where he lives today. Evelyn died three years ago.
He was with the FAA for 17 years until they gave him a desk job with no flying time. That resulted in his second retirement.
"Once they put him behind a desk it only took 30 days for him to be gone," said his daughter, Paula Floyd Carney of McLean who was attending the affair with her husband James. His other daughter, Nancy Hafkin of Rockville, Md., was unable to attend due to her son's high school graduation ceremony that day, according to Floyd.
"A FRIEND CALLED me and said he had a flying job if I was interested. That's when I started a third career, as the personal pilot for two Saudi princes," he said. "It was great. We lived high with an unlimited expense account and the best of everything."
During the first part of that venture, Evelyn stayed in an apartment in Athens, Greece, due to the status of women in the Arab world. Eventually, she was able to get a good job in Saudi Arabia and joined her husband rather than being dependent on weekend commutes.
"But, after a couple of years she announced, ‘I'm going home. You can join me or not,’" Floyd said. "I did. And, that was my third and final retirement."
"Over the years, I flew 40 different types of aircraft all over the world. It was a lot better than working for a living," Floyd emphasized.
Following their return to Waynewood, Paul and Evelyn became active in the Airstream Recreational Vehicle Club and continued their travels on terra firma. They also bought a summer/vacation home in Lewis, Del. "That driving back and forth to the beach on the weekends, with all the traffic, became to much," he said.
Their Airstream activity lasted until several years ago. While traveling on Interstate 81, their RV became involved in a accident when two tractor-trailers tangled. "That destroyed the Airstream and I haven't replaced it. It's just not worth it anymore," Floyd admitted.
But, what was worth it to pilot, father, friend and cherished neighbor, Paul D. Floyd, was having so many remember and show up for his 90th. "He is truly a living example of what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation," said his daughter proudly as the cake was cut and the group broke into their second rendition of "Happy Birthday Paul."