WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — When a member of The Greatest Generation has a birthday, it’s a big deal. When the birthday girl is a 102-year-old Army Air Corp Staff Sergeant and World War II veteran, well, that calls for a celebration.
The vehicle carrying Katie Conkling arrived in front of American Legion Post 4 with dozens of veterans outside greeting her with American flags and salutes.
Then she was assisted inside the building and introduced to a packed hall of more vets, family and friends as Army Air Corps Staff Sergeant Katie Conkling.
With that, Katie was escorted to the head table at the front of the room for a brief ceremony, marking her 102nd birthday.
“I didn’t think this would be so fantastic, but I knew it was going to be good because they really did it,” she said.
The birthday ceremony was highlighted by special guests and dignitaries from Wichita representing the state, such as Mayor Brandon Whipple.
“I said Happy Birthday, and she looked at me and said I’m gonna have more,” Mayor Whipple told the assembled crowd.
U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, a Kansas Republican, was a surprise guest.
“Yeah, it’s so great to the people that represent the Greatest Generation of our country and the work and commitment that they did and the sacrifice that they put going through World War II, and helping grow the country to where it is today. And Katie is just a perfect example of that,” said Rep. Estes.
Katie, who was born in 1921, lived in a Wichita children’s home, and graduated from East High School in 1939, answered a newspaper ad in 1942 to join the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. It was the beginning of a lifetime of service to her country.
“I mean, when I was growing up in the 60s, my friend’s mother’s didn’t work. They were all housewives. My mom always worked, and she always did jobs she loved. And that’s just the way she is,” said Katie’s daughter, Judy Conkling of Wichita.
“She was an example of what they say is the finest generation. She stepped up. She went in for that, and she was pleasantly surprised, I think, when she did join up because they recognized some things that she didn’t know she had,” said Mike Conkling, Katie’s son.
Katie stood and received guests for about an hour and a half.
“I’ve just enjoyed it because I’ve just had a ball,” she said.
“When she turned 100, COVID was on the scene, and we had a very small party in the living room. Just family. And then 101, it was kind of the same situation. So, I’m glad she got to have the party she deserves for a big celebration like this,” said Judy.
“Oh, I think she’s a little overwhelmed. I don’t think she was expecting to have this much of a turnout,” said Mike.
So, what’s Katie’s secret to living a long, healthy life?
“I take all of my pills. I do all my stuff, and if I want to do something, I just do it,” she said.
And Katie says she’s not stopping at 102.
“I told my doctor I’ve already decided I’m going to 105. Oh, and he says, ‘Well, what’s wrong with 110?’ I says, ‘OK, let’s go to 110,'” she said.
Among the many different jobs she’s held through the years, Katie was a private pilot, just like her late husband. He flew dozens of missions over Europe during World War II, including during the D-Day invasion.
What does Katie want for her birthday? Her own cell phone, so she can call her friends anytime she wants to do so.