Texas dealer J.L. Huffines has never tried on the custom-made brown leather boots he received for Christmas a few weeks ago. And he doesn't plan to.
The boots are more than just footwear. They represent tradition and honor that was deferred but still is cherished.
Huffines, 77, should have received the cavalry boots and saber almost 60 years ago. It's an honor Texas A&M University still bestows on Corps of Cadets members when they reach their senior year.
Huffines was a member of the class of 1944 when, in May 1943, all the Corps of Cadets in the junior and senior classes were called to fight in World War II.
After completing his tour of duty, Huffines returned to Texas A&M as an officer and graduated in 1947. However, he did not rejoin the Corps of Cadets, a campus military training program.
So as a belated honor, employees at his five dealerships presented to Huffines the boots and a saber.
'It was quite a surprise,' said Huffines, owner of the Huffines Auto Group (Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Kia and Subaru) in Lewisville, Texas.
'They've (the boots) never been out of the case; it took me too long to get them.'
Huffines Auto Group ranks No. 42 in the 1999 Automotive News Top 100 Dealership Groups in the United States.
The boots, saber, numerous medals and a military cap are on display in a lighted mahogany case at Huffines Chevrolet-Subaru in Lewisville.
General manager Robert Mohr said he and the other employees decided to present their boss with the gift after they learned that Huffines never got the boots and saber he earned and deserved.
'He put his head down when he told the story; we knew it was important to him,' Mohr said.
Huffines' feet were measured twice last summer - first by his wife, Sydney, and then by dealership public relations manager Bill Milburn - to get the exact size for the cavalry boots.
'I assumed it was for custom-made cowboy boots - I told them I didn't need any more cowboy boots,' Huffines said laughing.
Huffines was a commissioned second lieutenant and assigned to the 43rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. He spent 1944 and 1945 in Europe and saw active combat.
Eighty of Huffines' classmates died in the war.
Huffines became a dealer in 1950, when he purchased his first Chevrolet dealership in Commerce, Texas.