By Nick Cheshire
One of few remaining World War II veterans in Loudoun County, Franklin Payne, celebrated his 96th birthday Tuesday morning with family and friends at a surprise breakfast at the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg.
Once a flight engineer in the Army Air Corps stationed in Nice, France, Payne began serving in the Army at the age of 17. “I had a C-47 assigned to me and I flew all over France and Germany,” he said. “The war was over when I got there, but I got to see all the damage.”
Payne returned to Middleburg after his service, where he joined American Legion Post 295 and has been a member for 71 of the post’s 75 years, serving as both post commander and post adjutant.
His colleagues at the Legion helped organize the breakfast, specifically Payne’s longtime friend Vietnam veteran Ron Embrey. Embrey joined the Legion following his service at the age of 20, when he met Payne, who was around 40 at the time.
He credits Payne as not only a personal mentor, but a mentor for many through the years. “A lot of young men came back from Vietnam and didn’t have anyone to appreciate them,” Embrey said. “That’s what the American Legion is there for, we’re trying to help young men.”
The breakfast was organized as a surprise, as Embrey planned to honor Payne’s birthday request for breakfast at his favorite spot, the Red Fox Inn, but with a twist—Frank’s family and friends were waiting when he arrived.
Payne was a staple at the Red Fox Inn over the years, showing up day in and day out for his favorite breakfast in Middleburg. “When they unlocked the door, he would be waiting there,” Embrey said.
After his triumphant entrance, when Payne sat down the hostess said, “Here’s a fresh cup of coffee, just like you always had.” In fact, the Red Fox Inn hasn’t served breakfast since before the COVID-19 pandemic, but opened early Tuesday for his birthday.
One of Payne’s 11 siblings, Jerry, an Army Veteran who served during the 1960s, attended his brother’s birthday breakfast and reiterated just how close the entire Payne family is. “We had a big party when he was 95 and we have a family reunion Saturday,” he said.
Joining Jerry were his sister and niece, plus lifelong friends and even Mayor Bridge Littleton, who called Payne, “A true World War II hero, who’s been a member of the community ever since he was born and raised in Aldie.”
“Franklin’s been a pillar of the community forever, I can remember memories as a kid,” Littleton said. “Franklin, on the side, would give people rides to the airport. He also did car parking for events to make extra money, and he was always there with a cigar, a smile, and a friendly word.”
Friends and family said Payne is known and loved by many in Middleburg. They said his legacy lies in the community he has touched with his actions, especially with the veterans at the American Legion.
Payne said he’s thankful to still be going strong today.
“I thank the good lord every day for giving me my health at 96, with no pills or aspirin,” Payne said.
Nick Cheshire is a rising junior at Virginia Tech interning at Loudoun Now.