By Heather Richardson
Local World War II veteran Tab Torbett was recently given the opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital to tour the city’s national war monuments and memorials as part of the Lone Eagle Honor Flight program.
The 101-year-old Piney Flats native, who served three years in the army, said he had never been to Washington D.C.
Torbett, along with his friend and escort Larry Smith, started their journey at the Tri-Cities Airport and then made a stop in Charlotte to switch planes. While in Charlotte, Torbett was first honored by the local USO volunteers who escorted Torbett through the airport to board his flight to Baltimore. While on the plane, Torbett was again recognized by the flight attendant.
“There was a man that came over the loudspeaker,” Torbett recalled. “And he said there’s a Mr. Torbett on the plane and everybody calls him Tab. He’s a World War II veteran, and he’s also 101 years old. That place absolutely roared. They just roared on that plane. I was just so excited.”
After landing in Baltimore, the pair then took a bus into D.C. While there Torbett had the opportunity to share meals and fellowship with other veterans from across the country as well as see several of the city’s monuments and memorials.
“It just blew my mind to see all that stuff,” Torbett said. “It was just gorgeous.”
Torbett saw more memorials and sites than he could remember and said the Roosevelt and Lincoln Memorials were among his favorites. He also recalled with much reverence the precision of the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“There was a big crowd over there,” he said. “You could see a great big row just like there was going to be a ball game or something. They were just all up the steps watching the changing of the guard. It was real interesting to watch.”
Torbett also recalled being astonished when visiting Arlington National Cemetery.
“At Arlington we saw graves everywhere,” he said. “Just as far as you could see in any direction – graves.”
Torbett said he really enjoyed his time in D.C. seeing the memorials and meeting new people.
“We just had a glorious time,” Torbett said. “As quick as I could drop my hat, I’d like to go again.”
Torbett was only 22 when he was drafted and assigned to serve in the 102nd Infantry Division. After training at Camp Maxey and Camp Swift in Texas, Torbett traveled by train across the Mississippi River and up the east coast to New England where he boarded a ship that crossed the Atlantic and landed in Le Harve, France.
Torbett said his first job was to clean the cosmoline off the guns. As part of the Red Ball Express, Torbett said his primary responsibility was then to move the guns and ammunition to the front line. Torbett recalled several instances of seeing slain soldiers who lined the roads they traveled to and from their drop off locations. During his time in France and Germany Torbett also operated a 155 mm Howitzer gun – a towed weapon developed in the 1940s and used heavily during World War II.
When the war was over, Torbett returned to Piney Flats where he worked at and eventually took over his parents’ greenhouse. Today Torbett lives at Brookdale Retirement Center in Johnson City where he spends his days on the patio and around the gardens with friends, playing the piano, and looking forward to eating pancakes at Cracker Barrel.