Oklahoma WWII And Vietnam Veterans Discuss Fitness, History Of Service

On this Veterans Day, News 9 caught up with two local heroes: a 101-year-old World War II veteran who leads an active lifestyle, and a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran whose family has a long history of service.

Burrell Gambel was a World War II bomber pilot, one of more than 16 million Americans to serve in the deadliest international conflict in history.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there were approximately 300,000 surviving World War II veterans in 2020. Two years later, the number has shrunk to about 167,000.

Gambel has proven himself in part because of his focus on fitness. He works out two to three times a week at Valir Physical Therapy’s gym in Chickasha and uses a variety of exercise machines to maintain his upper and lower body.

“A lot of people ask me what my secret is, and I tell them I think it’s good genes, good exercise, and good damn luck,” Gambel said. “I’ve always believed in exercise and the benefits of my muscles.”

Gambel, a retired lieutenant colonel, also served in the Korean War.

Another major conflict in which the United States was involved was the Vietnam War, in which nearly 60,000 US soldiers lost their lives.

Mahlon “Skip” Cooley, 70, was one of the survivors and received a Bronze Star for his service.

“When you go in at 17, you don’t think about that,” Cooley said. “You just (sic) have a job to do, especially in combat. You just want to stay alive.”

Cooley’s two older brothers, Ples and Horace, also served during the Vietnam War. But they were both injured in 1968, which inspired Cooley to join the Army.

“My heroes, my brothers got wounded, so I couldn’t wait my turn,” Cooley said.

Cooley’s brothers were Purple Heart recipients. Cooley said it was the family’s faith that got them home safely.

“Because of Almighty God and my mother’s relationship with Him,” Cooley said.

Cooley’s family has a history of service. His brother-in-law, John French, served two deployments in Vietnam as a member of the Army. Cooley’s nephew was in the Air Force and served during the Gulf War. Cooley’s adopted grandson is in the Army Reserve and his father-in-law served in Korea.

Cooley’s son, Shane, is a major in the Marine Corps and served two deployments in Iraq. Shane joined the Marines the day after the 9/11 attacks.

“He said, ‘Dad, you and Uncle Horace and Uncle Ples have served. It’s my patriotic duty.’ I said, ‘Son, all I can say is that you’re simply the best Marine the Marine Corps has ever seen.’ And I think he did,” Cooley said.

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