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Ben Payton celebrates 100th birthday
Ben Payton celebrates 100th birthday
High School photo

Great Bend resident and World War II veteran Ben Payton will celebrate his 100th birthday today, April 18. 

He was born April 18, 1924, in Ellsworth County. The family farm was located between Ellsworth and Kanoplis, but they lost the farm during the Dirty Thirties when he was 6. The family moved to Flat Rock, Michigan.

His daughter Nancy Payton Miller submitted the next part of this story:

Ben Payton turned 18 on April 18, 1942. He graduated in May from Flat Rock, Michigan and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He did his basic training in Florida. When he finished that training the temperature in Florida was 85 degrees and he didn’t have a coat; he was put on a train and sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the temperature was 10 below zero.

“They were loaded on buses to go to the base,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, the buses couldn’t make the last mile because of the snow, so all of the men had to run the last mile.”

Payton spent the next four months in radar/radio school and by the time he finished the men had been assigned to their crews. They would fly in C-47s, the troop and supply carriers.

They left South Dakota and flew to Midway Island, refueled and went on into Africa. The bombers were already there and were preparing to leave for England. The C-47s would leave two mornings later and had to carry enough fuel with them as they flew over the ocean and came in on the north side of England. His squadron was based in Orleans, France.

In a C-47, there was a pilot, copilot, radioman and crew chief. Payton survived being in planes that were shot down at least twice. Miller said the family is aware of two incidents but her father didn’t like to talk about the war.

“The first time he was shot down, they had just dropped the paratroops out. They were taking heavy fire and were going down. They had to parachute out. The second time was not so good either. They were carrying wounded in the back of the plane; his whole crew was dead and he had been shot. He managed to land the plane safely less than a quarter mile from base where he spent 21 days in the hospital. But he was released just in time for D-Day with a whole new crew, which he remained with the rest of the war.”

When Payton returned from the Army his family had moved back to Ellsworth and he went to electrician school in Salina. He married Dorothy Tanton and they moved to Holyrood, where he was in charge of the light plant and the water plant.

The Paytons moved to La Crosse in 1961 and in 1969 they moved to Kingman, where he was superintendent of the water and light department until he retired. During his career, Payton was elected twice to serve as president of Kansas Municipal Utilities (KMU).

The family will get together today at Nancy Miller’s Great Bend home to celebrate Ben Payton’s birthday. Her siblings are Susan Swonger, Pratt; Robert Payton, Derby; and Dale Payton, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ben also has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A ninth grandchild died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Great Bend Tribune welcomes readers to submit names of individuals they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to news@gbtribune. com and explain their “community connection.”