At 98, WWII vet is Pink Palace’s volunteer of the year

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ernest "Eddie" Spencer celebrated his 98th birthday this week doing what he loves — serving as a volunteer at the Pink Palace Museum.

Spencer, a World War II veteran who has served as a historian in resident for more than five years, was named Volunteer of the Year by the Pink Palace.

He also taught taxidermy for many years. For Spencer having a hobby has always been a must.

"I'm always doing some hobby work," Spencer said. "Right now I'm making little earrings for the girls out of clay."

He stays busy every day speaking at schools and churches and is usually at the museum Friday afternoons.

As one of the oldest living veterans of WWII, Spencer hopes his stories about what he went through during the war can help personalize history that many learn through textbooks.

"How many more years have I got here? Now is the time for them to hear directly from a veteran. Otherwise, they're going to have to get it from film, like this here or read it in a book, 'cause there's not going to be any of us left," Spencer said.

Spencer served 39 months in the Army stationed with the 403rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion during the war.

"I've been to hell and back," Spencer said.

Spencer's battalion biggest impact was at a battle in Italy where his battalion was shot at for 550 days.

The battalion pioneered the use of close infantry support after they used it to stop German forces from advancing to an Italian mountain slope.

"We changed the history of World War II on the Western front," Spencer said.

Spencer was hit by shrapnel in several locations. The 98-year-old still carries a piece of shrapnel with him to show students when he speaks at elementary schools and churches.

Spencer said he also served as a chaplain's assistant and a colonel's orderly. His green army jacket is filled with numerous awards, but the greatest was the presidential commendation award given to him after the war by President Harry Truman.

Spencer said he plans to continue volunteering and sharing his stories with those who will listen until he dies.

"My son says I'm going to make it to a 100."