By Conner Hammett, Army & Air Force Exchange Service Public Affairs
HOHENFELS, Germany — Every day, Willie Alexander is in constant physical pain.
Yet the 74-year- old reports for every shift at the Hohenfels Exchange Subway restaurant, eager to serve and put smiles on the faces of the Soldiers and military families who eat there.
“You get up in the morning, you look in the obituary column, and if you’re not in there, you go to work,” Alexander said. “That’s my slogan. That’s what keeps me going.”
And Alexander has indeed kept going. The Vietnam veteran, who suffers from the effects of Agent Orange exposure sustained during the war, has not taken a day off in 15 years – his only missed shifts have been due to hospital stays.
“He’s always here way before his shift starts,” said Andrea Everette, area manager for Subway concessions. “He never calls out sick. I’ve never see him in a bad mood. Even when he has pain in his leg or hip, he’ll still come in smiling, with a kind word for everybody.”
Born in 1941, Alexander joined the Army in 1964. After his first Vietnam deployment in 1968, he volunteered for a second tour in 1969. After retiring as a Sgt. 1st Class in 1984, Alexander opted to stay in Germany rather than return to the United States.
“I do it for the Soldiers,” he said. “I’m a military man, so any job I can get to keep me being around the Soldiers I’ll love. The pay is not great, but even if it’s just making a sandwich, I try to make a difference in those guys’ lives.”
A beloved figure at the Hohenfels Exchange, Alexander has earned the nickname “Mr. PX” for his love of the Exchange, which he recalls as an ever-present source of relief in Vietnam.
“I appreciated being able to get into a town and there’s an AAFES there,” he said. “That kept me going. When you’re out in the jungle, there’s nothing but C-rations. AAFES had everything that would remind you of home. You could buy a TV or a record player and take it back to your little hutch.”
Alexander’s patronage of the Exchange continues to this day, with electronics and movies among his favorite products. Kicking back after work and watching a movie, he said, takes his mind off the pain.
“No matter what road the military sends you down, look back and the Exchange is behind you,” he said. “That’s my belief.”
And while his time in battle and the effects of Agent Orange exposure have left both physical and emotional scars, Alexander is never afraid to share stories with Soldiers eager to learn about the experiences of prior generations’ warfighters.
“A lot of guys don’t like to talk about it,” Alexander said. “but if you hold it in it’s going to get next to you, so I do.”
Everette said Alexander is so beloved customers often ask for him when he’s not there, and his co-workers care for him like a relative, frequently checking in with him at his home to make sure he’s OK.
“Willie is just such a nice person,” she said. “In the summertime, when he comes in to work a late shift, he stops at the Express and brings ice cream for the girls here. When he’s here in the store, he’ll buy cookies for us.
“He’s just that type of person.”