By Tom Mustin
DENVER (CBS4)– Denver native Philip Spanier is a 91-year-old World War II veteran. He came back home to Colorado after the war and dedicated his life to the friends he lost on the battlefield.
The Air Force veteran is still going strong, leading a full life as a talented artist and family.
He’s also proud to have served his country with honor.
“I went in the service because I love my country,” he told CBS4’s Tom Mustin.
Phil showed off his sculptures at Epic Estate Treasures in Evergreen.
But artistic talent is just a small part of this amazing man. Phil graduated from Denver’s South High School in 1943 and joined the Air Force. After limited action in World War II, he saw heavy combat as a B-29 flight engineer in Korea.
More than seven decades later, the horrific memories of war are still vivid.
“I tried to put it aside. I don’t like to talk about it too much,“ he told Mustin through tears. “Pardon me… there was a lot of people we killed.“
Phil came back to Colorado in 1953 to start a new life as a civilian, never losing sight of the high cost of freedom, and the friends who never made it home.
“War is terrible, terrible, it stays with you.”
To support his wife and two children, Phil took a job in a Denver factory making $1.10 an hour.
Other jobs followed, including a stint as bellman at the Brown Palace.
“I met the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Betty Davis.”
As a hobby, Phil started making sculptures, including likenesses of Elvis and the Beatles. A local TV station broadcast a story on Phil’s Liberace sculpture.
“The women went nuts over that guy. Including my wife,” said Phil.
That story lead to a meeting with the entertainer. His wife and daughter came along, ending any hope for a business transaction
‘He wanted to buy the figure. My wife said, ‘No, we won’t sell that. We’ll give it to you.’ I could have clobbered her,” he said, laughing.
Phil says he enjoyed his brushes with fame. But now, more than 70 years after heading off to war as a teenager, Phil says the highlight of a life well-lived has been the privilege of serving his country.
“It just makes me feel good that I’ve done my part. Even though I’m an old man, I don’t have much more time left, but I’m proud of it.”
After coming home from Korea, Phil became a pioneer in bodybuilding, winning several awards in the “Mr. Colorado” competition.
He said if he were a few years younger, he’d offer up his services to the Broncos, to help them out.