At some point as he made his way through Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport early one morning in March, 92-year-old Stan Bridges’ wallet left his pocket.
When it came time to board his plane, he realized it was gone, along with his cash, health card and identification.
Bridges, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was alone and in trouble, but he found help in the Gulfport community.
“I had my hat, so they knew I was in two different wars,” he said by phone from his home in Maine. “They treated me very well.”
First, a woman who didn’t give her name slipped him $15, which he used to buy a burger and coffee. His brother, a Gulfport resident whom he’d been visiting, arrived soon after to help. American Airlines made sure he was able to board his flight, and even upgraded him to a first-class seat.
In the meantime, Gulfport police officer Ronald Roe led a search for Bridges’ missing wallet. After a few hours, they found it wedged under the seat of a wheelchair he had been using at the airport. When Bridges arrived in Chattanooga where his daughter lives, he got a call from Roe — they’d be sending him his wallet by express mail, complete with cash and cards.
Jo Peckinpaugh, a Gulfport native who lives in the Chattanooga area, happened to be sitting next to Bridges at a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon a few days later.
She was surprised to hear, over a meal of smothered steak and coleslaw, the “sharp” man with the medals on his vest sharing the story of hospitality from her hometown.
“This is typical of people in Gulfport,” she said. “This is how they care for one another.”
Bridges took part in 11 invasions during his service in World War II and Korea, including the decisive Battle of Guadalcanal.
He served aboard a “sub chaser” that followed Japanese submarines through the South Pacific to Japan during World War II. He served on a destroyer during the Korean War, taking part in blockades off the coast of China.
Bridges, who’ll turn 93 in August, said he didn’t know when he’d be back in Gulfport, but thought he may travel with an assistant next time.