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Preston Hurlburt was just 21 years old when he came face to face with his own mortality. It was 1967, and he’d been drafted. As a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, Preston was sent to work aboard the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier, to support combat missions in North Vietnam.

On the morning of July 29, the planes were lined up on deck, with pilots strapped in and preparing to launch. Suddenly an electrical malfunction caused one plane’s rocket to discharge. In its Aug. 11, 1967, cover story, LIFE magazine called the resulting series of explosions and fire an inferno at sea.
“The explosion blew down through 11 decks, and the ship started taking on water,” remembers Preston, his voice cracking. He was responsible for destroying radar equipment before the ship sank, to prevent the technology from landing in enemy hands. Though the USS Forrestal did not sink and was later repaired, the fire claimed 134 lives.
A new challenge
Fast forward 45 years and Preston now faces a new challenge. The Olive Branch, Miss., resident recently retired from a 30-year career at an industrial construction company, but he isn’t living the carefree life of a new retiree. “I wanted to wait until I was 66 to retire, to draw full Social Security,” says Preston. “But about eight months ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.”
A Modern Woodmen member since 1978, Preston, and his wife, Nancy, met with their financial representative, Wayne Averett. During an annual life insurance review, Preston discovered his life insurance certificate contained a waiver of monthly deductions rider. The rider provides for premium payments in the event of disability.
“I’d forgotten about the rider,” says Preston, “but Wayne took care of getting the benefit for me. I get to keep my certificate for the next five years without paying on it. I appreciate what Wayne did for me. He really cares for people.”
As for the Parkinson’s diagnosis, Preston isn’t letting it get the best of him. “I used to work for a living,” he says, “and now I exercise for a living. I’m keeping my body fit, and I’m not giving up.”