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AARP The Magazine

Meet the Winners of AARP's 50+ Model Search

From 51 to 91: Learn how they keep young at heart

The New Faces of 50+, our winners of our

"Men who've been in combat and lived — they've been given a second chance. Me, I've been given more than a dozen chances," says J. Pat Branch. — Ari Michelson

60+ Winner

J. Pat Branch, 65

Home: Kimberly, Idaho

Lifeline: My great God; my wife, Margo; and family

Words to Live by: I can't do everything for everybody all the time, but I can do something for somebody some of the time.

In the 17 months I served in Vietnam, I earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. I earned three Purple Hearts. And people say, "Man, you're a hero." No, what I was was somebody else's target practice.

Frequently I wondered: Why did I come home alive when so many guys I knew didn't?

Over the next four decades I earned a college degree and gave myself over to veterans' advocacy, assisting veterans and their families in receiving health and financial benefits. I've been fortunate to be able to give my time to the food bank, homeless shelters, church activities, and riding programs for the disabled.

When I was younger I rodeoed — rode bulls and broncos and steer-wrestled. I never won a million dollars in rodeo. But I had a million dollars' worth of fun and made $10 million worth of friends. Growing up in cowboy culture, you kinda know who's real and who isn't.

Helping hands: How you can help end senior hunger in America

For years I've been doing the ranch and rodeo ministry — I go to rodeos and preach a chapel service. I've seen myself as a servant for much of my life — a servant to God, to the community — but much of my work came after I turned 50, too. When I was 58, I was fortunate enough to receive a Jefferson Award for Public Service in Washington, D.C.

I try to always keep in mind a scene from my favorite movie, Saving Private Ryan. Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, has been severely wounded and is dying. He tells Matt Damon, who plays Private Ryan, to do something good with his life. "Earn this," he says.

Men who've been in combat and lived — they've been given a second chance. Me, I've been given more than a dozen chances. Getting older is learning not to waste what you've been given. You do something. You always do something.

Next page: A successful reinventor. »

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