WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Brice Watson grew up without water or electricity during the Great Depression. He walked behind horse plows until he was drafted into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II, and later worked as a prison guard at Fort Leavenworth.
Watson never thought he’d be on TV. That’s changing now because the soon-to-be 97-year-old Derby resident has a story to tell.
It begins with his childhood growing up in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.
“I seen the Dust Bowl. The Great Depression. In fact, one day, the dust bowl came at school. We didn’t have no electricity,” said Watson. “We lived three and a half miles from school if you follow the road. It got so dark at school the teacher let us out.”
Watson and his brothers were able to follow the road and made it home that day.
In his teens, his family moved to an area along the Missouri-Arkansas border. This is where he was when he was drafted as a student at Washburn High School. He received a deferment until he graduated.
“I got out of school on a Friday and left Monday morning for basic training. In fact, I missed school to go take my physical that I had to take in St. Louis, Missouri,” he said.
Watson said he was at basic training when it was announced over the radio that Japan had signed the surrender, ending World War II.
“Well, felt pretty good about that. Of course, we finished up our basic training. Basic training was pretty rough,” he said.
Once basic training was complete, he reported to Fort Riley, where new soldiers were being shipped overseas. Watson says he was fortunate he didn’t have to go.
“I was extra if someone got sick or if they didn’t have the quota. But luckily, they didn’t need me, and so I didn’t have to go,” he said.
So, he was sent to the Federal Prison at Fort Leavenworth. Watson was a guard at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
“And then they transferred me into the mess hall as the overseer. Prisoners done the kitchen work, so I had to oversee them,” he said.
After serving as a prison guard, Watson was transferred to the prison hospital, where he worked as a medic. He remained there until he was discharged from the Army in November 1946.
Watson and his wife, Ruby, eventually moved to Kansas in 1955, and he went to work for Cessna in the shipping department.
“That was in 1963, and spent 27 years there until I retired in ‘93,” said Watson.
Watson lived in Mulvane and currently resides in Derby. At age 96, he remains very active. He bowls in two leagues, and he enjoys going to the Derby Recreation Center to exercise and to walk the track there.
If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Jason Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.