Originally Published: January 4, 2016 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT - World War II Army veteran and VA resident John Mortimer is a man who inspires others, a former mortar crewman who spent 37 years in active and Reserve duty who recently was honored with his colonel wings, according to VA officials.
The promotional honor and ceremony was arranged through Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care Services and Vietnam veteran Bill Treadwell and American Legion Post 6 member Gene Manzer. The two men worked tirelessly to assure that Mortimer obtained the deserved promotion.
A resident of the VA's Community Living Center, Mortimer spent several weeks working with the kinesiology department in order to have enough strength in his legs so he could stand during the presentation of his military honor.
"It is great to be able to be a part of our veterans' lives and to partake in events in which we honor them and their service," VA Public Affairs Officer Mary Dillinger said in a news release.
Mortimer joined the U.S. Army in May 1942 and then served for almost four decades. As part of his duty, Mortimer was assigned to bases in England, France and Germany as well as in various places in the United States: Maryland, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania and California.
As a 20-year-old serving in war time, Mortimer was an eager soldier who volunteered for an overseas placement, stating that he "wanted to do it all," Dillinger wrote.
During his 10 years of active duty, Mortimer, a.k.a. "Laddie," served under the famous Gen. George Patton and was one of the soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge.
In that battle, Mortimer recalled that he managed to survive an enemy booby trap, but not without suffering a concussion from the explosion that "sent me flying." He also survived another heavy mortar shelling, but again was injured when the ceiling of a bombed building fell on top of him, smothering him with debris.
"To this day, I get flashbacks from the ceiling of being buried alive, but I'm a lucky devil to still be around to tell my tales from the trenches. As Gen. MacArthur said, 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,'" Mortimer wrote for this year's Veterans Day reflection in The Daily Courier.
From his combat campaigns in the European Theater, Mortimer earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and three battle stars. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College.
He was again called to duty during the Korean War, serving as a stateside soldier where he was assigned to observe testing of the atomic bomb.
After retiring from the Army Reserves in 1970, Mortimer served as an honor and color guard for American Legion Post 6, presenting the American flag at military funerals for families of fallen heroes. Mortimer is a past post commander, a past president of Rotary International and an honorary lifetime member of the Elks Club, the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
For decades, Mortimer was a VA volunteer in Prescott, earning a "smashing surprise" in 2014 when he was named its "Volunteer of the Year."
"I love Prescott and I knew as soon as I moved here that I did not want to live anywhere else," said Mortimer, who after leaving the Reserves moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania, and then on to California.
At 96, Mortimer suffers some physical ailments, but his memories of his military service remain keen.
"I enjoyed my military service," Mortimer said.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2041, or 928-642-6809.