Residents of a Longview neighborhood gathered Tuesday evening to honor a “patriot” as he celebrated his 102nd birthday.
Cake, burgers and more were served at a home on Marguerite Drive during a birthday party for Charley Clayton.
Along with people who live in the neighborhood, guests included representatives from the Longview police and fire departments.
According to Clayton’s daughter, Linda Haynie, the annual celebration — which doubles as a birthday party and National Night Out-type celebration — was started by Jack and Brenda Lenier shortly after Clayton’s wife died almost five years ago.
“They started out just as a personal little birthday party,” Haynie said. “When my mother died, they knew he was here by himself, and the neighborhood would try to get together and just have a little birthday party for him and just come in the house and just be real low key.”
Brenda Lenier, who is block captain for the Marguerite Drive neighborhood, annually holds National Night Out parties. With the event occurring in October around the time of Clayton’s birthday, the Leniers decided to combine the two parties and invite law enforcement to the dual-celebration, Haynie said.
In 2020, when Clayton turned 100, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert attended the celebration and presented him with a certificate recognizing his birthday, she said.
Haynie said it felt amazing to be able to celebrate another birthday with her father and added that the community support was wonderful.
Clayton said he doesn’t believe he deserves all the credit he’s been given.
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world to be honored with the people along with me … the people say things that I never heard before,” he said as he looked at all the people in attendance Tuesday. “I didn’t know they care about me.”
Clayton was born Oct. 25, 1920, and joined the Army in August 1942. He went to Salt Lake City, Utah, for training, some of which was done in the Mojave Desert. He also trained at Pendleton Field, Oregon, and in Lansing, Michigan.
He married his wife, Arva, while on leave in April 1943. Clayton’s daughter said he spent most of his time in the Mediterranean where he was part of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces and was classified as medium maintenance.
Clayton returned to the United States in December 1945 and was honorably discharged a week later. He received numerous medals, including for good conduct, a World War II victory medal, a pin for sharpshooting and an honorable service lapel button.
“I’ve been a farmer; I’ve been a oil field worker … I’m a welder, electrician, mechanic, and I did all those things,” Clayton said. “Whenever I got in the service, they’d ask me about this or that, and I’d say, ‘Yeah I can do that.’ “
“His whole life has just been being a patriot,” Haynie said. “Being a WWII soldier has informed his whole life.”
“I’m old enough that I never know when my time is ‘gonna be gone, but I’ll stay as long as God tells me to stay,” Clayton said.