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Local WWII veteran reflects ‘The Greatest Generation’

American flags (Tunnel to Towers/Facebook)

If you’ve forgotten what “The Greatest Generation” looks like, take a good look at Dudley Eastin.

The High Point man, who just turned 100 this week, represents all that was great about his generation: Growing up in Kentucky, he lived through the Great Depression, learning values he would cherish throughout his life. He worked hard, not retiring until he was 79. He has been married to the same woman, Patricia Eastin, for 68 years.

And when it came time to serve his country, he willingly and unflinchingly signed up.

“I was in my last year of high school when the war started with Japan,” Eastin recalls. “I really wanted to join up then, but I couldn’t because I was only 17. A parent had to sign for you, and Dad wouldn’t sign. He said, ‘You finish high school first, then you can join.’ I just figured I ought to be helping the war effort, doing whatever they needed me to do.”

That’s the sort of selfless patriotism that defined — and still defines — “The Greatest Generation.”

Unfortunately, though, as a World War II veteran, Eastin is part of a quickly dwindling fraternity. Of the 16.4 million Americans who served in the war, less than 1% are still living, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — and they’re dying at a rate of about 131 veterans per day. That’s why preserving the stories of veterans such as Eastin is so important.

Eastin enlisted in 1942 — right after he finished high school — following in the footsteps of his father and other family members by joining the Navy. His father had served in the Navy during World War I, and an uncle had been a Navy chief.

After going through three weeks of boot camp in San Diego, Eastin was tagged for Quartermaster School, where he became acquainted with a famous seaman who was also in the program — movie star Henry Fonda. By that time, the 37-year-old Fonda had already starred in — and received an Oscar nomination for — “The Grapes of Wrath,” so Eastin certainly knew who he was.

“Oh yeah,” Eastin says, “we slept in the same barracks, ate at the same tables.”

Eastin also recalls the weekend Fonda invited him and a buddy to ride with him up to Los Angeles, where his first wife, Frances, and his children, Peter and Jane, lived.

“We did a lot of talking on the way up there,” he says. “We got far better acquainted than we would have just doing day-to-day soldiering. Fonda was a great guy — he was a real square-shooter.”

Following Quartermaster School, Eastin headed to sea, where his ship participated in the Allied island-hopping strategy across the Pacific Ocean. Moving westward toward Japan, the Allies stormed and claimed one Japanese-held island after another. Eastin’s ship followed the attacks by delivering equipment, supplies and manpower to each of the islands, which would then become launching points for future attacks.

According to Eastin, his ship typically arrived at an island after the bombing and shooting had stopped, but the ship did have a close call during the famed Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of World War II.

“We were in danger there of being blown out of the water by that big Yamato battleship,” Eastin says, referring to one of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s most powerful, heavily armed battleships. “We were sitting there completely undefended, and we got scared because we thought we were going to get it from that big Japanese ship.”

Historical accounts indicate the Yamato retreated, however, after a series of Allied aerial attacks.

When the war ended, Eastin was training to be a submariner, a role he never had to fulfill. He had served 3 1/2 years, but he stayed in the Navy Reserve after his discharge. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he attended Cumberland College for two years and the University of Kentucky for two years, studying engineering.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Eastin got called back to the service for a couple of years, but he was never deployed to Korea.

In 1952, he settled in the Triad, where he took a civil engineering job with Western Electric. He stayed with the company for 14 years, then went into the building design business and didn’t retire until 2008.

Eastin’s health remains good overall, despite a minor stroke last year and chronic back pain that flares up from time to time. The only thing you’ll hear him complain about, though, is the fact that he’s no longer allowed to drive.

“I’ve really felt good all my life till last year, when I had that little ol’ stroke,” Eastin says, demonstrating how his left hand was temporarily paralyzed.

That “little ol’ stroke” hasn’t stopped Eastin from staying busy, though — even at 100.

So, you want to know what “The Greatest Generation” looks like? You don’t have to look far.


(c) 2024 The High Point Enterprise

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