East Texas World War 2 POW, veteran advocate dies at 97

Puett Willcox, Jr.'s life read like a movie script; joining the war effort in 1942, Willcox was a ball turret gunner on a B-24, was shot down, and spent a year
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:12 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:29 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - He was a national and East Texas treasure: A World War 2 and Korean War veteran who inspired his family and those around him.

Puett Willcox, Jr., a resident of Buckner-Westminster assisted living in Longview, died in late August of complications from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Friends and family are remembering him as not only a war hero, but a hero in life.

His life reads like a movie script. Joining the war effort in 1942, Willcox was a ball turret gunner on a B-24, was shot down, and spent a year in a German POW camp.

“The fact that he persevered. We wouldn’t be here. My family wouldn’t be here, he hadn’t married my mom yet, but he persevered,” said son Don Willcox.

Puett went on to fly 50 missions in the Korean war, but his life after service to his country is what most remember.

“His desire to just live life to the fullest was always evident,” said Buckner-Westminster chaplain Rick Webb.

“What I did grow up with is lessons of life that he’d teach, that he’d share,” Don says.

But it was Puett’s relentless spirit at Buckner Westminster that people remember. There was always something to learn, always something to do.

He became an advocate for veterans’ rights.

“I think Puett was rightly motivated to stand up for those rights and to stand up for those things that they had earned in their service to the country,” Webb says.

Willcox inspired others to keep working and stay active in their retirement years.

He leaves behind a dignity and conventional wisdom his son will not forget.

“Son, there’s going to be some bad stuff happen in your life. Don’t focus on that. Look to the good,” is what Don remembers his father saying that his father told him.

Puett Willcox was 97.

Funeral services will be held at 9 a.m. Monday at Rader Funeral Home in Longview.

He’ll be laid to rest later at DFW national cemetery with full military honors.

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