Eugene Pillard was born on Jan. 5, 1918 and was reared on a farm in Grant, Neb.
“We lived there during my high school days. About that time is when the sandstorms came and my dad dad said ‘I put the seeds in the ground and I am getting nothing in return’,” said Pillard.
As a consequence, the family moved to Denver, Colo. where Pillard lived for approximately five years until he was drafted. He went on to join the U.S. Army before moving on to the U.S. Air Force.
“In those there was just the Army, Marines and Navy,” said Pillard.
According to Pillard’s wife, Pat, her husband was able to secure a job in Colorado before joining the service.
Based on his records, Pillard lacked two months and 10 days from serving exactly 30 years in the military.
In addition to the Army and the Air Force, Pillard served nine years in the U.S. Army Reserve. Even though he was in the Reserve, Pillard said he still remained active.
“Every Friday I would take off from California and go to Hawaii,” said Pillard.
While in the Air Force, he served as a Crew Chief of P-38 fighters. Pillard was in the European Theatre and African Theatre of World War II.
According to Pillard, he had five friends who were with him in the 71st Fighter Training Squadron.
“We were together for about two years during the war and then we went our separate ways,” said Pillard.
In addition, Pillard had four pilots who completed all 80 of their assigned missions before returning to the states. None of Pillard’s pilots died in action.
During a reunion, a pilot flew in an old P-38 and noted the wheels were shimming as he was landing the aircraft. An attendee mentioned Pillard’s name and noted his ability to fix the plan. Pillard made adjustments to the aircraft’s landing gear and stopped the shimming.
After the military, Pillard moved to Riverside, Calif. where he married his first wife. His parents also lived in California.
He went to college and went on to teach auto mechanics in California. Pillard went on to West Point, Neb. where he also taught auto mechanics.
Pillard’s sister-in-law was an Arkansas native. His brother and sister-in-law made the decision to not only move to Hot Springs, but to also bring Pillard’s parents with them.
“He brought my parents from California to Arkansas and but them in a house and made me responsible for them,” Pillard said, who added he did not object to looking after his parents.
As a civilian, Pillard has participated in numerous mission trips, disaster relief efforts and community service projects.
He has taught driving classes through AARP, provided tax services for seniors through AARP and delivered meals. His involvement with disaster relief efforts took him to New York following 9/11, fires in Colorado, flooding in Louisiana and a tornadoes in Tennessee and Arkansas.
“You really get to know people when you go on those mission trips,” said Pillard.
His mission work has taken him to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
In addition, Pillard enjoys corresponding with his grandsons and meeting and talking to other Veterans.
“Two of his Veteran friends take him to breakfast on Monday and Friday,” said Pat.
As a child, Pillard enjoyed farming. He noted that he and his siblings used a pony cart built by their father and pulled by a Shetland Pony as their mode of transportation when traveling to and from school.
Pillard described his childhood as “tough days.”
“Those must have been tough days. We had to be tough to grow up in those kind of days, but we survived. That is the main thing,” said Pillard.
Pillard believes that he now appreciates the blessings he has received throughout his life as a result of the tough days he experienced as a child.
Longevity runs in Pillard’s family. His mother was almost 103 when she died, while his father was in his 90s. Pillard has also outlived his younger brother and sister.
“I am still the oldest,” Pillard said.
When asked what he thought was the secret to a long life, Pillard noted it starts with having a relationship with God.
“Way back, early in the war, I found a partner that I really loved and He took care of me. I am talking about Almighty God. I don’t make too many steps where He doesn’t go with me,” said Pillard.
Pillard is thankful for how the Lord has blessed him.
“There aren’t too many people who live to be 100,” said Pillard, who added he has also been blessed in other ways.
“I have to owe a lot of that to the good Lord.”
When asked what kind of advice he would offer to younger people who would like to live a long life, Pillard reiterated the importance of having a relationship with God.
“Pray to Him. Talk to Him as if He is with you,” Pillard said.