FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- The real threat were the Kamikazes in Manila.
It was 1943, and Frank Beckwith -- then a Navy man in his late teens from Newport -- had seen action at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima. He’d been to Okinawa, sailing aboard the U.S.S. Kendall C. Campbell (DE-443), lurking around the coastlines, searching for enemy submarines.
Then they went to Manila. As the planes roared overhead, Beckwith came up from the depths of his ship and opened the top hatch to look outside. What he saw would chill him: He watched a Japanese Kamikaze pilot sacrifice his life by flying directly into one of the allied aircraft carriers.
“We would go and get the survivors,” Beckwith said. “You didn’t even really pay attention to all that was going on around you -- you just kept going. You did what you were trained to do."
“Come on in,” Beckwith smiled, gesturing for the visitors to come to the back room of his Fort Thomas home. A comfortable, breezy addition with a large television, the house had pictures covering the walls.
“He did this room all himself,” said Beckwith’s daughter, 54-year-old Jackie Huff of Florence. “There’s not a whole lot he can’t do.”
Beckwith just smiled. He sat down at a table, adjusting his suspenders that stretched up over his collared shirt. He wore a Navy ballcap and he looked much younger than he is.
He whipped out his new smartphone.
“It’s the AARP size,” he said of the overly large mobile screen. “Sometimes I have trouble figuring this thing out.”
He eventually found the camera application and tried to take pictures of his guests. He succeeded.
Beckwith is now 92 years old. He’ll be 93 on Aug. 31. He is not -- and has never thought about -- slowing down. As the oldest member of the Tri County Gun Club, he still takes road trips to participate in trap shooting contests.
Recently, he drove to Florida and back for a competition. The next one is up in Middletown.
“He’s never been one to stop making plans,” said another daughter, 53-year-old JoAnn McDaniel of Fort Thomas. “He’s not the kind of person who thinks about death coming.”
No, Beckwith set out every day with a list of a few things to do. He wants to leave the house by 10 a.m. and do something. Sometimes that’s trap shooting, other times it’s visiting family or friends. Upcoming lunch plans include going with one of his daughters to Mellow Mushroom pizza in Wilder. Then of course, there’s the family. He’s got seven kids, 13 grandkids and he's been married three times.
His last wife, Sparky Beckwith, died in Spring 2015 from lung cancer. They were married 38 years.
“That’s the problem with growing old,” he said. “Sometimes you outlive your loved ones.”
Just getting started
Beckwith grew up in Newport and decided high school wasn’t for him, so -- in a time of worldly turmoil -- he enlisted in the Navy. By December 1945, he’d seen action in Japan and Manila and when it looked like the war was ending, he headed back home.
Using the G.I. Bill, he bought a house and went back to school. He learned to be a welder, but also took a job at a bar, and eventually worked as a maintenance inspector for the Veterans Administration on Vine Street. That’s where he stayed for 27 years before retiring in 1983.
He was just getting started.
Now, Frank has upgraded his email from Hotmail to Gmail. He texts. He uses his GPS to find the Steak ‘n Shake in Florence. He has his own Facebook page, where he can see friends and family.
“Never seen so many damn people in all my life,” he laughed.
And that’s saying something. So what’s the secret to all this longevity?
“I can tell you a few things,” he said. “I never take a drink out of a water fountain. I used to inspect where the water came from, so I never wanted to drink out of them. Then, before I go to sleep, I have two doubles of Maker’s Mark -- or maybe I’ll go sit outside on the porch with the dog and have a Bud Light.”
At the age of 90, his doctor told him he really should stop smoking cigars.
“For what?” Frank asked, laughing. “Am I going to die before I get old?”
But he did quit -- for the most part. On normal afternoons he’ll grab some dinner, either alone or with friends or family. Then he’ll come home, and maybe watch something on Netflix. At 10 p.m., he’ll watch the early television news and go to sleep right after.
“It’s important to be going, doing things,” he said. “I can’t sit in a chair all day long.”
How could he? The man has been doing things for almost a century. He’s seen Newport transform itself from Sin City into a family friendly town with a planned ferris wheel at the center. He’s seen Pete Rose play, gamble, apologize and still not get into the Hall of Fame.
“He shouldn’t have been banned,” Frank said. “I never went back to a game after that happened.”
He’s seen a current political race that’s left him a bit rattled, too.
“The only president that ever did anything for the people was (Franklin) Roosevelt,” he said.
Beckwith is still a skilled trap shooter, traveling to competitions around the area, using shells he makes himself.
“I do what I want to do,” he said. “I feel like I can, so I just go.”
On some afternoons you’ll catch him reading from his Bible. And sometimes, if you get him in the right mood, he’ll tell you about his plans for the future. First, he wants to head up to Middletown for that shooting competition.
Then? Well, who knows.
“I’ll say this, though,” he said. “When it is time for me to go for good, when they put me in that casket, I’ve told my children I want two things with me: I want a heater, and I want a cellphone.”
And why, exactly?
“Well, the heater might keep it comfortable,” he said, laughing. “But I may need the cellphone -- you never know, I may want to come back.”