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Airmen honor WWII veteran's last wish

Roy Mullinax, a former Soldier and Airman, shakes hands with an Airman after being presented a veteran’s pin during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Members of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard recognized Mullinax’s years of service during a ceremony at the hospice center he lives in. Mullinax originally joined the Army towards the end of World War II, and enlisted in the Air Force soon after the conflict ended, ultimately working for the federal government for more than 50 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Roy Mullinax, a former Soldier and Airman, shakes hands with an Airman after being presented a veteran’s pin during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Members of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard recognized Mullinax’s years of service during a ceremony at the hospice center he lives in. Mullinax originally joined the Army towards the end of World War II, and enlisted in the Air Force soon after the conflict ended, ultimately working for the federal government for more than 50 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Roy Mullinax, a World War II Army veteran, speaks with Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Mullinax enlisted in the Air Force shortly after the end of World War II, and his years of military service led to his recognition with a veteran’s pin through his hospice center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Roy Mullinax, a World War II Army veteran, speaks with Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Mullinax enlisted in the Air Force shortly after the end of World War II, and his years of military service led to his recognition with a veteran’s pin through his hospice center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Roy Mullinax, a former Airman, returns a salute to Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, after being presented with a veteran’s pin during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Members of the 22nd ARW Honor Guard recognized Mullinax for his years of service during a special ceremony at the request of his family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Roy Mullinax, a former Airman, returns a salute to Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, after being presented with a veteran’s pin during a recognition ceremony, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Members of the 22nd ARW Honor Guard recognized Mullinax for his years of service during a special ceremony at the request of his family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, places a veteran’s pin on the collar of Roy Mullinax, a World War II veteran, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Mullinax enlisted in the Army towards the end of World War II before joining the Air Force and working for the federal government for more than 50 years before his retirement in 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge, places a veteran’s pin on the collar of Roy Mullinax, a World War II veteran, Dec. 8, 2015, in Newton, Kan. Mullinax enlisted in the Army towards the end of World War II before joining the Air Force and working for the federal government for more than 50 years before his retirement in 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Inside a small sun room cramped with family members and friends, an 87-year-old World War II veteran sits in his wheelchair, surrounded by three Airmen in immaculately groomed ceremonial service uniforms.

The technical sergeant in the middle of the honor guardsmen placed a pin on the man's collar, took a step back and looked the former Airman in the eye, passing on heartfelt appreciation.

"Thank you for your service," said Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams as he rendered a crisp salute to the man.

Roy Mullinax mustered all of the energy in his frail body and sat up straight as he returned as perfect a salute as he could muster.

With tears in his eyes, Mullinax could not help but smile as Airmen from the 22nd ARW Honor Guard recognized him for his service in the Army and the Air Force as a young man during a ceremony, Dec. 8, in Newton, Kansas.

"He really is near the end of his life, most likely," said Julie Crawford, Mullinax's daughter. "We want him to have a good feeling for his service, but also for him to know that others appreciated it as well.

Mullinax served in the Army at the end of World War II before enlisting in the Air Force for a number of years, ultimately deciding to work for the federal government in Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years, retiring in 2004.

In 2011, he moved to Kansas and recently moved into hospice care, where he heard about a program for veterans.

Senior Independence Hospice of Mid-America staff learned from Mullinax's family about how fond he was of his time in the military, leading to coordination with We Honor Veterans, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides educational tools and resources to promote veteran-centric activities and improve their quality of life.

One of the available services is the formal presentation of a veteran's pin, which Mullinax's family enthusiastically recommended.

This wish led to a series of phone calls, eventually connecting the hospice center staff with Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard NCO in charge. Upon learning the details of the request, Williams immediately organized a small detail of Airmen to visit Mullinax.

"Our primary duty is honoring the family at funerals," said Williams. "Today, we actually got to honor the veteran himself. It was very humbling to be offered the opportunity to put the pin on him. It shows he's not forgotten."

Williams and two of his sharpest honor guardsmen donned their ceremonial dress uniforms and rendered honors to Mullinax while presenting him with the veteran's pin in a small ceremony attended by Mullinax's wife, Lily, his daughter, Crawford, and friends and staff members of the home he lives in.

"I'm just glad that he had the opportunity to acknowledge [his service] while his mind is still able to grasp the contributions he made," said Crawford.

As an honor guardsman, the unique opportunity to honor a World War II veteran before he passed away struck Williams as a rare chance to show the same respect and tribute to the actual veteran instead of just the family, as the case normally is with the funerals that the honor guard performs regularly.

"I personally wanted to make sure he got what he rightfully deserves, even if it's just a simple recognition like this," said Williams. "It's not about us, it's about acknowledging the veterans. I am sincerely grateful and honored for being able to contribute to this milestone."

After the pinning ceremony was finished, the attendees went up to Mullinax to thank and congratulate him. As he was wheeled back to his room, he passed by the honor guardsmen as they were preparing to depart.

Each Airman stopped what they were doing, quickly lined up in the hallway and individually shook his hand, expressed their gratitude and reflected on the opportunity to honor what could be the veteran's final wish.