VA Northern Indiana Health Care System
100 year-old Fort Wayne Veteran surprise birthday
In a life that has spanned 100 years, Ralph Reighter has experienced some amazing events.
One he may not have expected? A surprise birthday celebration arranged by his VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System primary care team.
On Friday, a group of over 100 family members, friends, Veterans, distinguished guests and Northern Indiana VA employees celebrated his service in a surprise birthday party at the VA Fort Wayne Medical Center campus. The event was spearheaded by his primary care team, including Tracy Shively, the program support assistant. After talking with Reighter’s son Kenneth, hearing the Veteran’s incredible story, she reached out to others to put together an event for him.
The celebration morphed into a surprise event, one in which Reighter attended a primary care checkup and then escorted to the auditorium to be applauded. A large group welcomed him after his arrival. Four Indiana congressional delegates gave letters of appreciation and his son provided heart-felt words about his father. VA Northern Indiana’s Director Michael Hershman shared his thanks as well.
Reighter’s career was an adventurous one. Serving his country in the Korean War, he flew recon missions, identified enemy positions for artillery to hit and protected his wingmen in the skies north of the demilitarized zone. He trained other pilots, accumulated over 3,500 hours and served in multiple services, including the Army, Army Air Corps, Air Force and Air National Guard.
However, none of that compared to the Korean War mission when he was shot down by enemy fire. His RF-51H Mustang took enemy anti-aircraft fire and crash landed two miles behind friendly lines. Luckily, he survived, even missing a rack of artillery shells stacked near his crash site. Undeterred, the pilot hopped into a transport, returned to his base and was flying combat missions the next day.
A video of his aircraft crash was shown, which prompted Reighter to detail that if it wasn’t for an Army signal corps man with a camera, that crash would never have been filmed.
When it was time for Reighter to share his own words, he shared a quick story about the signal corps soldier reaching out to him about the crash video, thanked everyone, and was done. A somber, quiet man who was satisfied with serving his country, a sentiment shared by his son.
“He was very methodical, level-headed and quiet,” said Kenneth Reighter. “And yet, in his core, he was a hell of a warrior. I wouldn’t have wanted to face him on the battlefield.”