These are some portraits that I took for our veterans package. What incredible individuals with even more incredible stories:
Former prisoner of war Orby Ledbetter, 92, of Victoria, served in the Texas National Guard at age 16. Ledbetter and the 36th Division were sent to the beaches of Salerno, Italy, during World War II, where he was captured and taken to a Munich prisoner of war camp. After months of starvation and labor, he and 10 members of his platoon escaped when the Russians came to liberate the German camp.
At age 92, Orby Ledbetter hardly stays in his house in Victoria. Ledbetter volunteers almost every day to multiple organizations, including the Veterans Council, Flag Corps for funerals and the Veterans Clinic. “I like to stay busy. … It keeps me going.”
Johnny Ray Alvarez, 63, of Victoria, served from 1966 to 1970 in the 2nd and 7th Cavalry Division. Alvarez was injured during a rescue operation. His division walked into a booby trap, and only he and another man survived. He received his Purple Heart in April 1970.
In 2011, Alvarez was bitten by a venomous spider, and without any treatment, the venom spread through his system. Alvarez, who spent almost four months in the hospital, asked the Lord to take his life away. Instead, Alvarez recovered and found the incident to be an eye-opening experience. “The good Lord changed my life,” he said. “I now go to several churches including Faith Family, and my passion for the Lord has turned my life 360 degrees.”
Rene Reyes, 68, of Victoria, served in the 101st Airborne Division Infantry. Reyes received his Purple Heart on April 7, 1966, after his helicopter was shot down, killing the pilot and co-pilot and leaving only he and a fellow comrade injured.
Reyes who works and lives alone, found his best friend in 2006. Phoenix, a Lhasa apso, has been Reyes’ best friend and companion since then. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” Reyes says.
Master Sgt. Horace L. “Bud” Sappington, 82, of Victoria, joined the Army in 1947 at age 16. Sappington was wounded three times: twice by shrapnel and once when shot in the face.
After Horace L. “Bud” Sappington, 82, returned from the Korean War, he picked up a new hobby: golf. For almost 50 years, Sappington has played almost three times a week. “It’s getting harder with age,” Sappington points out, “but I have always enjoyed the competition.”
Martin Garcia, 67, of Bloomington, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 3rd Marine Division. Garcia received his Purple Heart on July 10, 1966. Garcia was injured when a Marine stepped on a mine, sending off shrapnel that hit Garcia in the right forearm.
Garcia is a chapter service officer for the Disabled American Veterans. Martin feels it is his duty to help other veterans receive their full benefits from the government. “It’s nice to give back to veterans in need and then receive the gratification a couple months later for the help.”