Junior Ekins enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 18 as many of his brothers in arms were dying on the island of Guadalcanal.
He took part in four beach landings in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and was twice awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the war. To this day, the former maintenance supervisor at the Maytag Corporation rarely talks about his war experiences.
That's what made Junior's latest mission — as Grand Marshal of the 2013 Newton Fourth of July Parade — so daunting.
"If anybody else had asked, I would have said, 'No way,'" he recently told Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Darrell Sarmento. "But, since Doug Bishop asked me to do it, I will."
Junior, who lives in Newton with his wife, Velma, participated in the 2009 Jasper County Freedom Flight. Velma declined to ride with Junior in the parade, so he instead asked Bishop to accompany him in the 1964 Corvette — fully restored by a local Vietnam veteran — during the parade, which begins at 9:30 a.m. on Independence Day.
"I would be honored to accompany him during the parade as he represents the Veterans of Jasper County," Bishop said. "Junior is a true American hero — a certifiable piece of American history — and the epitome of what we mean when we say 'The Greatest Generation.'"
Learn more about Junior's military experience, told in his own words during an exclusive interview with the Daily News, in Friday's "Called to Serve" feature.