101-year-old veteran who served in 3 wars is honored in Okaloosa County


FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla. — It’s not every day you turn 101 years old. It’s definitely not every day that you survive through three wars.

Fort Walton Beach resident Colonel James Randels has done both. His secret?

“Keep breathing,” he said. 

Col. Randels was a fighter pilot. He flew in 275 combat missions during his time in the United States Air Force, serving in World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam; 

To say he’s had some narrow escapes is an understatement.

“If you have to crash land, go into a banana patch because I didn’t get a scratch,” he said.

From crash landing airplanes to training new fighter pilots, Col. Randels had a full career in the Air Force and in the real estate business afterward.

Okaloosa County recognized his 101st birthday on October 23rd as Col. James B. Randels day.

“He did not know this was happening,” said his son, Joseph, who was there to witness the proclamation. “Total surprise.”

Joseph says his father is an inspiration to him every day. 

“He’s an amazing guy,” he said. “Still drives, still takes care of his own business, still sharp.”

He also still lives happily with his wife, Bette, who has plenty of her own stories to tell; she served in World War II as a physician’s assistant at a Red Cross in London.

“We had a big bomb, about two blocks away,” she said. “We lived through it, so, that’s the main thing!”

The Randelses keep on living, married for almost 50 years now. 

Mrs. Randels says there’s a secret for that too.

“You put up with everything,” she said with a laugh.

Their home is filled with stories of love, war and life. Their spirits are just as full. 

As for Col. Randels, he may have had his 101st birthday recognized in the county, but to his son, he’ll be held in the same esteem every day of his life.

“He’s the most incredible guy I’ve ever met,” said Joseph.

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