HOT SPRINGS -- Arkansas' oldest known veteran found his fountain of youth in Hot Springs -- and it turns out it's an actual fountain.
Jeffery Haymon (right) asks his father, Ben Haymon, a question Thursday morning in Hot Springs. Ben Haymon, an Army veteran, is the oldest known living veteran in Arkansas and will turn 107 Tuesday.
Ben Haymon, who turns 107 on Tuesday, regularly trekked from his Mountain Pine home to downtown Hot Springs throughout his life to fill jugs with the town's signature spring water.
Today, the U.S. Army veteran lives in a Hot Springs retirement home, but his children often take him water drawn from the nearby springs.
"I told my siblings that there's something in that water," Haymon's son Jeffery, 55, of Stockton, Calif., said in Hot Springs last week. Jeffery Haymon planned to get his dad some spring water later that day.
Mr. Ben, as staff members at his retirement home call him, somehow comes off as young for a 106-year-old. Until 2012, he lived independently, and he drove his car until moving into the home at age 102, Jeffery Haymon said.
On Thursday, Mr. Ben relaxed in a wheelchair in his second-floor room. A news program played on the TV in the background as he thought about his life. His mind remains sharp, and he's keenly aware of public affairs.
"It's wonderful," he said, thinking about his life and about a birthday party planned for Tuesday.
Pictures of Mr. Ben adorn the wall behind him, arranged like a scrapbook beginning with his Army photo from World War II and ending with a picture from a party last year. In each photo he's a bit skinnier than the one before, but there's one thing each photo has -- Mr. Ben's smile.
He hasn't felt well in recent weeks. But Thursday he felt great, and his contagious smile was on full display.
And Mr. Ben inspires similar smiles from his caregivers.
Aide Jessica Lacey sees Mr. Ben every day. She has dealt with centenarians before. They're usually grumpy and sedentary, she said.
"Not Ben," she said. "He's probably the most amazing man I've ever met."
Mr. Ben was born Nov. 8, 1909 -- the same month and year that Wilbur and Orville Wright formed their airplane company. He grew up in McKamie, in Lafayette County, the son of a farming family.
At 31, Mr. Ben enlisted in the Army in 1941, seven months before the attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted the U.S. into World War II.
As a cook, he served in Port Moresby, Australia, before a reassignment to New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu, with the 159th Port Company.
Mr. Ben recalled the long nights at sea near New Hebrides in the South Pacific Ocean as artillery shells crashed around him.
"I was afraid," he said. "There were ships all around us getting hit."
That wasn't the only war that this soldier fought. Racial segregation within the military ranks weighed heavily on him.
"He loved everyone," Jeffery Haymon said. "He started talking about [segregation] the other day, and his head just dropped."
Mr. Ben received an honorable discharge after the war and got a job in a Garland County lumber factory, where he worked for four decades. The only time he ever missed work was during a bout with colon cancer in the 1970s. He's lived several decades longer than doctors expected.
He retired in the 1980s only after his son approached a human resources worker at the factory.
No one there had any idea that Mr. Ben was 80 years old. The factory retired him within a week.
That gave Mr. Ben more time to play the guitar and harmonica. He still plays and enjoys listening to the blues, mostly Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins.
Mr. Ben, who was eligible to receive Social Security even before Elvis Presley died, doesn't have any groundbreaking tips for living beyond 100. But he does enjoy his spring water.
During the golden age of Hot Springs' bathhouses, the saying was "Quaff the elixir," and it was thought that the spring water had medicinal benefits.
"The park does not claim the water is curative," according to a Hot Springs National Park brochure. "But the park does certify that it is safe to drink."
Mr. Ben eats what he wants (right now he's on a hogshead-cheese kick), and his cabinet is full of diet soda. He thinks that growing up on a farm has something to do with his longevity.
"I really breathed fresh air and sunshine. I chased squirrels and rabbits," he said.
Mr. Ben also loved to take walks, especially through downtown Hot Springs where he filled up his water jugs. He still enjoys a stroll when he's able.
Maybe it was the water, or the walks, or the farm or a combination of them all.
But Lacey, Mr. Ben's aide, attributes his long life to something else -- his sunny disposition.
Metro on 11/06/2016
Print Headline: Something in water for 106-year-old vet