90 year-old Wilburn Rowden didn't think he'd spend Saturday in the company of family and friends celebrating his legacy as a distinguished World War II Air Force veteran and former prisoner of war.
"This is really a surprise," Rowden said. "I thought we were just going to have a light lunch... gosh, look at all these people here... This is... this is outstanding."
Wilburn Rowden was just 20 years old when he was drafted to fight in World War II.
He was 22 when the war ended. At that young age, Rowden was lucky enough to live through events that had claimed the lives of thousands of other soldiers.
After he was drafted, Rowden was assigned to a B-17 bomber "Sleepy Time Gal" in January 1944 with 10 other men.
Just over two months later, Rowden and the crew were flying over Germany when the plane was shot down by enemy forces. He and the other crew members bailed out and parachuted to the ground, but two did not survive.
As soon as he landed, Rowden was immediately captured by German soldiers.
He was held captive as a prisoner of war for 13 months and 18 days.
When it became clear that the Germans were going to lose the war in 1945, German forces marched Rowden and hundreds of other across Germany in an effort to evade American troops.
On April 26, 1945 Rowden was finally liberated by American forces.
"The best day of my life was the day I saw the German flag go down and the American flag go up," Rowden said.
After the war ended, Rowden went on to serve 38 years in the armed forces before retiring from the Missouri National Guard. Today, Rowden is a great-great grandfather.
His daughter Sarah says Rowden has shaped their family and touched all of their lives.
"Instead of saying 'time to get up, girls,' it was 'Hit the floor! Front and center!'," Sarah said with a chuckle. "It made us better people."
The group presented Rowden with several tokens of appreciation, including an American flag that was flown over Washington, D.C., a congressional recognition, and a hand-stitched quilt.
Rowden said his one wish for this Veterans day is for Americans to keep their heads up.
"I hope they can realize that our country is in better shape than it has been several times in the past few years," Rowden said.
To hear Wilburn Rowden's story on how he was taken POW after his plane was shot down in German skies, click here.