Roy Caldwood is a risk taker — a rebel.
And, a humanitarian.
The 100-year-old veteran — who regularly stays fit and active by working out with a trainer at AdventHealth Wellness Center in Wesley Chapel — served as a Buffalo Soldier in World War II, encountering German infantry and Third Reich soldiers in Italy. He was a medic, caring for his brothers in arms in the 92nd Infantry Division Reconnaissance Troop Second Platoon.
“I will say this, it was a hell of an experience, a once in a lifetime experience, and what I learned was how it felt to live in a free society and a colorless society — because in Italy, it was color blind. You never heard the word ‘color’ in the two years I spent in Italy,” Caldwood said.
Nearly 80 years later, Caldwood has long been retired and has resided in New Tampa now for about a year. His wife of 73 years, Muriel, passed in the summer of 2022.
He stays active by gardening and still does some traveling, and he works out with a hands-on trainer at AdventHealth Wellness Center, in Wesley Chapel.
The gym recently honored Caldwood, for his service and for being its only 100-year-old member, by giving him an honorary membership.
His daughter, Diane Royer, who also works out at the gym, thought it was a good way for him to remain active. But she also knew that this “risk taker” would need some guidance (a.k.a supervision).
“My role is to safeguard him, but if it was up to him, he would go (too) hard because he’s a risk taker, but also a humanitarian,” Royer said. “He’d be in here (at the gym) trying to help other people, which is all well and good, but I would feel bad if something happened to him.”
Caldwood works out with Wellness Trainer Mike Guerdan. The trainer keeps Caldwood grounded, even if the centenarian willingly does more than required.
“It can be tough to make sure he doesn’t do too much given his age, so I just want to make sure he doesn’t do anything too irresponsible and hurts himself,” Guerdan said. “He’s like a vintage automobile — you’ve got to drive him carefully.”
Royer worries her father might do too much — knowing his history as both a soldier and humanitarian.
Caldwood was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the war.
While in Italy, with the village his unit was occupying under imminent German attack, he and other medics volunteered to help the Italian villagers, but he also undertook a very dangerous mission.
He volunteered to escort a group of Italian women to go grocery shopping. They needed to pass through a section called “Purple Heart Stretch” because entering that war zone meant risking death.
“The Germans thought my actions were completely suicidal,” Caldwood recalled.
“That’s just Roy being Roy — always wanting to help somebody somehow, but also taking the road less traveled,” his daughter added. “For him, it’s go big or go home.”
When Caldwood finally did go home to his native New York, he spent more than 21 years in the New York City prison system as an assistant deputy warden and program director at Rikers Island. He worked in that system until 1976.
During that time, he was among six guards who were taken hostage during the 1972 Rikers Island Riot. Caldwood helped negotiate a peaceful resolution.
“Sometimes, you have to take a risk to help others,” said the author of “Making the Right Moves: Rikers Island & NYC Corrections.”
The book recounts the story of the 1972 riot. In 2001, he was awarded the New York City Commissioner’s Award for Bravery and in 2016 received the New York City Department of Correction Guardian Association Medal of Honor, Valor & Merit.
Now, as he walks through the gym, sometimes wearing clothing honoring his Buffalo Soldier notoriety, Royer is still surprised no one notices.
“No one said anything when I put the year 1922 on the forms when signing him up,” she said. “I thought maybe they’re used to it — but here’s a 100-year-old Buffalo Soldier at this gym and no one knew! Which is okay because he’s working out and staying active.”
“It’s inspiring to see his work,” the trainer said. “It’s still pretty amazing to see him in the gym and handing him weights and he’s slinging it above his head and doing more than what I asked him to do.
“I hope I can still do that when I’m 100 or even younger!”
Caldwood — a rebellious, risk-taking humanitarian — doesn’t feel his age.
“I love this gym — and I like Mike (laughs),” Caldwood said. “But I don’t feel 100 — I’ve never been 100 before, so I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like!
“But I’m going to keep working out and hopefully I’ll reach 101.”
Published May 24, 2023