Bellaire neighbors, family surprise 96-year-old WWII veteran

BELLAIRE – In honor of Veteran’s Day, a Bellaire neighborhood came together to honor a US Navy veteran, who served in WWII and the Korean War. The surprise brought 96-year-old veteran Joe Wardell Sr. to tears.

“The patriarch is my father. He’s the original Joe Wardell, and he served in World War II and the Korean War,” Joe Wardell Jr. said.

Wardell Sr. joined the Navy as a young man, fighting in WWII and then again as a lieutenant in the Korean War.

“He is as consistent of a person as I’ve ever known,” Wardell Jr. said. “[My father is] highly disciplined. If he says something, he does it.”

That includes his father’s quest to marry the love of his life, Ava. The couple grew older together, teaching generations the lessons they’ve learned.

“The mantra he lives by is, ‘Do the best you can with what you’ve got,’ and that’s different for all people,” the son said.

Wardell Sr. was the kind of man who could talk to and charm anybody, neighbors said. It was not a surprise to Wardell’s family that one neighbor, Sarah Walters, who also grew up in a military family, was determined to do something meaningful for her neighbor on this special day.

“This year, his wife passed away in July, so we really wanted to do something extra special. So I thought on a whim that I would just post it on social media and get the community involved,” Walters said. “We’ve had a lot of people stop by and add to our decorations. There are lots of cards.”

Sure enough, at 4 p.m., Wardell Sr. exited the garage to see the crowds of neighbors cheering him on.

“It’s just so wonderful. I have so many friends. I don’t even know all of them. They know me!” Wardell Sr. laughed.

This veteran’s sacrifice was recognized. Children waved American flags and screamed, “Thank you.”

“I was just overwhelmed,” said Wardell Sr. “Plain and simple: overwhelmed...brought tears to my eyes of happiness.”

This 96-year-old never forgot the cost of freedom.

“We prevailed and for that--I’m eternally grateful,” Wardell Sr. said. Now, his neighborhood wants him to know, his sacrifice is not forgotten either."

“I just hope he knows, we don’t forget,” Walters said. “He will always have a special place in our hearts.”