Floyd Brantley’s 98-year-old smile cast a beam of light as bright as his eyes, but for the younger Brantley, life had its darker sides.
During the Great Depression, his father left his family to fend for themselves. Even before the day started for most, Brantley says he was up and at ’em.
“I worked on a milk truck growing up before school. After school, I worked at the grocery store,” he recalled.
When he was in high school, World War II was well underway. His brother was already fighting in the South Pacific until the day the war came to the Brantley home bringing the tragic news of his death.
“He was killed in the Navy on the USS Atlanta,” Brantley said.
Soon his mother’s only surviving son, who she wanted desperately to finish school, got a letter. He broke the news that surely broke her heart.
“Told my mother, ‘Mother I’ve got to go to war,’” he remembered.
Brantley felt he owed it to his brother and the nation.
“When my brother was killed, I felt like I had to go and replace him,” he said, adding that there was no question to his service, no matter his fate. “When you know you are doing your duty, you volunteer or drafted, you feel that you are doing something for America, and you may get killed.”
That was made clear to Floyd and his 5,000 shipmates by their commander as they set sail for
the South Pacific, where his brother had been killed.
“‘Some of you will not come back, some of you will be wounded,’” Brantley recalled the officer saying. “‘We want you to know this. You have no choice.’”
There were examples of both injury and death in no time. As a Navy corpsman, Brantley was assigned to the First Marine Division. Combat was no stranger to him, and he recalls when the lull in the action was about to ramp up.
“As we do a push, we knew they were getting ready to go to Saipan,” he explained. “We better be ready; we are going to get a lot of casualties.”
The fighting on Saipan was fierce, and Brantley did what he could to help the wounded.
“One case a Marine said, ‘Corpsman I need a shot. My leg is killing me,’” he recalled. “And I say, ‘Sergeant, you don’t have a leg.’”
But in the hell that is war, he saw light as well. Brantley recalled helping a young Polynesian boy injured alongside Marines. The boy said missionaries had told him about Christ but that the Japanese had either run them off or killed them. The injured young boy asked him to sing a song, “Amazing Grace.”
“So he and I started singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and all these soldiers stopped talking and couldn’t understand where this was coming from,” he said.
Brantley survived the war unscathed, except for a broken elbow he got playing football while waiting to sail home. That injury got him a ride on a hospital ship and a little ribbing from the wounded Marines on board.
“The guys would ask, ‘How’d you get hurt?’ ‘I was shot here,’ and so forth, and asked me, ‘How’d you get hurt?’” Brantley said. “‘Well, I was playing football…what?!’”
World War II was over for him, but then came the Korean War, with Brantley’s desire to serve still in place. This time he joined the Air Force and became a load master on cargo and transport planes in the skies over Korea. By the time it was all said and done, he retired a captain. He even got his education, like his mother wanted, when he graduated from Baylor University.
Then the United States got involved in the Vietnam War. Brantley could have sat that one out, but instead, he signed back up, though this time, age and time were on his side.
“I was in the Air Guard, but I knew ‘cause of my age they wouldn’t send me over to Vietnam,” he recalled.
All told, Brantley served his country during three wars, being in active duty for two of them. Today, at 98 years old, he stays active honoring veterans and first responders around the county, often speaking to local groups about his service to the county and love of God, a true native son of the Natural State who always looked to put service over self.