Saluting a WWII Veteran
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Cowboy fan lights up when Pistol Pete joins his birthday celebration
At a well-kept home on the edges of Marlow, Oklahoma, the world sent its love to Oklahoma State University fan Recil Troxel, one piece of mail at a time. The flood of correspondence renewed the faith of his daughter Liz Anderson in the goodness of people and left the family awestruck at the power of a Facebook request for cards for a World War II veteran.
For OSU, Troxel’s recognition culminated on his 93rd birthday. On April 17, Pistol Pete paid a visit to the home along with Jamie Payne, senior associate vice president of Development Services for the OSU Foundation; and Blaire Atkinson, president of the Oklahoma State University Alumni Association. Bearing a gift basket and 93 greeting cards from OSU students, athletes and administrators — including one from President Burns Hargis — they commemorated Troxel’s birthday with an orange celebration for a life well lived.
Payne called the visit “an absolute honor.”
“You should have seen his eyes light up when Pistol Pete walked through his front door to wish him a happy birthday and thank him for his service to our country,” Payne said. “Recil was wearing his orange with pride and grinning from ear to ear when reading the cards from the OSU family. When he opened the card from President Hargis, Recil said it was so special that he would frame it. This is pretty amazing, considering he has received over 100,000 cards from all over the world in the past few months.”
The deluge of mail and visits started when Anderson grew tired of seeing her father disappointed when he had no mail addressed to him.
“I thought, ‘My sister just retired. I’ll have her put it on Facebook in Missouri, and we will get him a few cards for his birthday and he can get some mail,’” Anderson said. Her goal was maybe 100 cards for his birthday. The request was picked up by television stations and even made Southern Living magazine.
“The first day the mail came, he had four packages of cards and I thought that was great,” she said. “Then Monday comes, and the mail had six of those huge bags full of cards and over 100 packages. For a month, UPS came to the house once a day and FedEx came twice.”
Avid OSU fans, the family has a bedroom bedecked in Cowboy orange — and swimming in boxes of mail nearly shoulder-high.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Anderson said.
Troxel’s life before WWII included shining shoes for a nickel a pair at the barbershop when he was 8 years old, delivering papers at 12 and working as a short-order cook at a downtown cafe when he was 13. He dropped out of school to drive a truck and help support his family before he left for war.
He spent two years and 29 days as an Army combat engineer in Guam, the Philippines and Saipan. He battled foot rot from weeks in wet terrain. He guarded prisoners, dug foxholes, served on a bomber and crawled through muck on the front lines. He earned a total of $262.01 for nearly 25 months of service.
After the war, Troxel married a waitress who caught his eye, Ida Lee. They owned a trucking company before he went to work for the Stephens County Barn-District 1 and the State Highway Department. In retirement, he and Ida Lee traveled the country, selling crafts and making rounds of garage sales. Ida Lee died in 2005.
In the years since, Troxel has battled more than one round of near-fatal pancreatitis and is being treated for skin cancer. He was in a rehab facility before Anderson brought him to live with her. With age and illness, the breadth of his world slowly contracted to the view from the front window that overlooks State Highway 81 and a daily drive to check the mail.
Now the world comes to him in packages and in person. Veterans stopped by on a cold day in February. On April 13, his family threw a birthday celebration with family and friends — some of them new friends who have adopted Troxel as an honorary grandpa since the request for birthday cards. Through it all, Oklahoma State has been well represented for this family of Cowboy fans.
“We are so appreciative of everything OSU has done,” said Tracy Nichols, Troxel’s granddaughter and mother to OSU grad student Meagan Bourne. “The whole university has been amazing.”