Like many voters in 2020, Al Stowe had to use a mail-in ballot when voting in his first presidential election back in 1944.
Stowe, 99, would rather have voted in person at his home precinct in Dallas, but instead was serving in the Army Air Corps as a mechanic for B-24 bombers making runs against Japan.
Stowe is proud that he fought for democracy in that battle against fascism, but equally proud that in 78 years as a registered voter he has never missed an election. Not one.
During those decades of exercising his constitutional rights, Stowe has seen 14 presidents serve in office, seven of whom he voted for and seven of whom he voted against.
But whether you favor Trump or Biden, Stowe has a simple message for those who have not yet voted: “Vote on Election Day! It is your responsibility as an American citizen. If you don’t vote, you’re giving someone else your say in how things are run.”
And to those who are apathetic, saying that all politicians are crooks regardless of their party?
“Someone is going to win each of those offices,” he answered. “It is up to you, as a voter, to select the best person. You can’t complain if you don’t vote. You have no voice if you don’t vote.”
For a fellow who will hit the century mark on his next birthday, Stowe’s mind is as clear as the November sky, his energy still unflagging.
Born near Dallas in 1921, he was but 8 years old when the Great Depression struck. His family, he said, was luckier than most during that time of economic hardship.
“My daddy was a painter, but we raised almost all the vegetables we needed,” he remembered. “And thanks to their German ancestry, they had a lot of pieces of German antique furniture. Seems like every six weeks or so, Dad would sell a piece of furniture to an antique dealer in Charlotte to help us get by.”
Recognizing President Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership in overcoming the Depression and in leading the Allies in World War II, Stowe voted enthusiastically for him with that first presidential ballot in 1944.
Indeed, Stowe still ranks Roosevelt as the best president of his lifetime, with fellow Democrat Harry Truman a close second.
“Roosevelt was just what this country needed,” Stowe said of the man known as FDR, “and Truman is the man who got me home by dropping those bombs. Without him, I might not be here today.”
Returning home after World War II ended, Stowe used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend Evans Business College in Gastonia.
He went on to work as an executive in the textile industry but was perhaps better known for his part-time gig as a wedding photographer.
Over the years he photographed more than 1,800 weddings, most of them in Gaston County, sometimes doing three wedding in a single weekend.
Stowe credits his good health to total abstinence from both cigarettes — a rare feat for a World War II veteran — and alcohol.
A fiddle player in his youth, Stowe met his wife Beatrice, who died in 1989, while fiddling at a dance.
During his decades of voting, Stowe has watched Gaston County transition from a reliably Democratic county to one which now votes overwhelmingly Republican.
The reason for the shift, he believes, stems from unhappiness over the national Democratic Party’s support for civil rights for Black citizens during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
“That has to be the reason,” he said. “And now, we further apart, more divided, than we have ever been.”
Although he did not vote for him, Stowe did profess an admiration for Republican President Ronald Reagan.
“He was spunky and he was truthful,” Stowe said. “I liked it when he told the Soviets, ‘Tear down this wall.'”
And his prediction for this year’s presidential race?
“It may be close, but I think Biden is going to come out on top.”
(c) 2020 Gaston Gazette
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