101-Year-Old War Veteran Has Long History Of “Town of the Year”

John Wheelihan of Ellendale, North Dakota Served During World War II

ELLENDALE, ND — Not everyone gets the chance to see their town change over a century.

KVRR’s Danielle Church talked to a 101-year-old World War II veteran who has seen just about all in Ellendale.

At ten years old, John Wheelihan knew he was meant to be in the skies. But it wasn’t until he was an adult that he’d get the chance to sit in the pilot’s seat.

“I got 40 hours of flying at the University of North Dakota. Aviation was a coming thing then and I just loved to fly.”

After graduation, Wheelihan realized there was another incentive to being up in the air.

“There weren’t any jobs in 1941. You couldn’t buy a job. We were still in the deep Depression. So $125 a month as a second lieutenant looked like a fortune.”

He joined the U.S. Air Force cadet program and was eventually promoted to captain. Little did he expect to fly all kinds of warplanes over Ascension

Island in the South Pacific and Italy during World War II. He also never knew he never met the qualifications to be up in the air.

“When I got back to the states, I found out you’re supposed to have 200 hours before you sit in the pilot’s seat. You’re supposed to be co-pilot.”

Wheelihan’s only had one mishap during his time as a pilot. When he was on Ascension Island a B-39 plane he was flying had a landing malfunction.

He landed it without a scratch. But Wheelihan wasn’t just skilled as a pilot. He was a jack of all trades, working as a farmer and rancher, in real estate and the Ellendale Postmaster for 16 years. Having lived a lifetime, there’s only one job he says he can say was truly the greatest honor.

“Oh, getting married I think. That 50 years with her was wonderful. We had some ups and downs.”

The worst moment for him was when his wife Clara Develling died from a brain hemorrhage after moving into an Ellendale nursing home in 1999.

heelihan moved into the same facility just ten days before his 101st birthday last October because his age is starting to catch up with him.

But Tom Denlison, Wheelihan’s best friend for the last 35 years, and his two dogs use to visit him at his home every day. And it’s certainly not about to change now.

“We’ve solved the world’s problems more than once.”

That even includes how to live for 101 years.

“You just live every day and do what you can with it.”

Because that is the true secret to a happy life.

Wheelihan will turn 102 this October.

Categories: Local News, North Dakota News