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Heroes Among Us: 99-year-old veteran, Lexington native leads heroic life

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Posted at 6:21 PM, Mar 21, 2023

PARIS, Ky. (LEX 18) — Our talented LEX 18 photojournalist Lindsey Smart said it best as we left the home of Albert Wess Sr.

“Imagine having 100 years of stories to tell!”

And we’re here to report firsthand that Wess does it very well!

The World War II veteran has led a heroic life, one that began with a degree of difficulty. His parents died when he was young, leaving his twin sister in an orphanage and Albert fending for himself. He scrambled for years to work and feed himself while attending middle and high school, recalling one story of how a man offered to allow him to live in his basement and a dollar a week to do chores around his home, and recalling how he once stole a chicken from a women’s yard for his supper.

But life took a turn with a letter he received on his 20th birthday.

“It said ‘Greetings! Greetings! You have been selected to be at such and such point to be at such and such place at such and such a time. Period! Be there,’" Hess remembers as if it had arrived a month ago, his thin frame shaking with laughter.

The year was 1943 and Wess had been drafted into the U.S. Army, where opportunity – and racism – awaited. His first stop was Fort Lee, Virginia and guard post duty, at a time when Black soldiers were not trusted with ammunition.

“(I was) standing on a guard post at night with a rifle with no bullets. If someone had come up, all I could do is hit ‘em with the butt of the rifle and then wave goodbye to them if that didn’t work.”

And later in Mississippi, accused by a racist cop of speeding while on a mail run while on duty.

“He took that pistol and slapped me upside the head,” Wess winces at the memory, adding the policeman’s quote, ‘I ought to blow your brains out!’

But Wess overcame it all and proudly served our nation in France during World War II. A stretch in which he noticed a change.

“When we got ready to be discharged, you from Pennsylvania, he’s from Florida. I’m from Kentucky. All of us had grown together and blended together and worked together as brothers,” Wess says.

Wess later worked for the old Lexington Army Depot in Avon for 32 years. He’s been a Mason for more than half a century and still sings in his church choir. And he makes sure to attend as many veterans events as he can, always showing up in a crisply ironed shirt, using the skills he learned as a young boy.

The Lexington native and now Paris resident stands as a beacon in his community. A true Kentucky hero who will be the center of attention next month as a party celebrating his 100th birthday.

“You can’t look back on hard things unless you’ve been there,” he says. “But to have been there and survived them is great. To God be the glory!”

If you want to with Wess a happy birthday, you can send letters to:

Kelli Oakley
Attention Albert Wess
106 Bruner Drive
Wilmore, KY 40390