How does it feel to turn 100-years old?
On his 100th birthday, Walter Radcliffe of Manahawkin, who served with the U.S. Navy in World War II, looks back on his service and his many blessings in life as his fellow members of the Barnegat VFW Post 10092 celebrate his big day.
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Born July 10, 1921, Walter Radcliffe, would go on to volunteer for the U.S. Navy in 1943, attending basic training at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland and in Mississippi before being assigned to the U.S.S. Isherwood, DD 520, a Fletcher Class Destroyer.
He would go on to serve in five engagements during his time in the Navy, three in the Philippines and two in Okinawa by serving in the Pacific Theater during the Philippine Campaign between 1944 and 1945 when he would serve during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Invasion of Lingayen Gulf and Invasion Subic Bay as well as in the Battle of Okinawa
The War was tough and made personally tougher as he saw friends perish including in the Battle of Okinawa where his ship was under attack and received significant damage from a kamikaze attack.
“They were my very best friends and there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think of them in a special way, they were great friends and they died for their country,” Radcliffe said.
In fact, he was supposed to be with them, but had been reassigned to another position during general quarters keeping him out of the engine room on the ship where a plane crashed, killing 84 of the 250 sailors on board.
“It had a 500-pound bomb on it, flew right into the gun turret and it wiped out the whole engine room,” Radcliffe said.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Radcliffe says there were under constant attack and on the lookout for kamikaze pilots.
“Their objective was to sink ships and they came out everyday and hammered the hell out of us,” Radcliffe said.
The sailors were in constant survival mode as they were on the lookout for kamikaze pilots constant attacks while working to defend the ship and keep up their strength.
“There were times where we never left the guns, we stayed on the guns and they brought us food (on their ship), they’d bring us sandwiches, a bowl of beans or something…it was never-ending, it was just terrible,” Radcliffe said.
But he continued to fight mentally and physically, whatever his country needed of him.
“I guess you’d call me a Patriot, but I love this country,” Radcliffe said.
Before he shipped off to service, Radcliffe was exempt as he worked for a company that made the engines for ships.
He kept trying to get into the service regardless though for love of country and to serve the U.S. with his friends and was given a presidential deferment and begin training and serving with the Navy.
“So I didn’t have to go but I wanted to go, all my friends were in the service, I just wanted to go,” Radcliffe said.
Following World War II, in 1946, Walter received an honorable discharged with the rank of Third Class Petty Officer.
He received a number of awards for his Naval service from Combat Action Ribbon, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 3 Bronze Star Devices, WWII Victory Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation and Philippine Liberation Medal w/ 2 Bronze Star Devices.
He survived the attacks of World War II and has led a long and healthy life working in the insurance industry and banking sector.
Now, his fellow military veterans in the Barnegat VFW are helping him celebrate his life as Walter turns 100-years old.
“It was a very hard War and for somebody to reach 100-years old, that’s a statement, and to me to be able to celebrate his birthday with him is great,” Lenny Hemmerle, Barnegat VFW Post 10092 Commander said.
Walter is still very active with the VFW as well, helping them with several events.
“He’s very helpful,” Hemmerle said. “When we do our poppy drive, he used to be a banker and the head of a bank, and he comes and helps us count the money.”
Walter isn’t slowing down yet as he turns 100, feeling youthful and energetic on the inside.
“I don’t feel any different, I feel good. It’s a good day. My aches and pains…a few and I’m happy to be here and converse with all these gentleman here,” Radcliffe said.
So, is there a secret to a long and healthy life?
“I think it’s a matter of luck and taking care of yourself, being careful about what you eat, get the right amount of exercise…I don’t know, it’s a combination of things I think,” Radcliffe said.
Walter lives at home with his wife Dorothy and they have a number of grandchildren and great-grandkids from his two sons and three step-children.
Along with food and special guest speakers, Walter received a special legislative resolution presented by 9th District Ocean County Assemblywoman Dianne Gove honoring his service and 100th birthday.