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Inside the Gates: World War II veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Louis Palmer turned 100 on Aug. 29 and served with the 95th Naval Construction Battalion during WWII
WWII Veteran Louis Palmer at Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska
WWII Veteran Louis Palmer at Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska(Bruce Palmer)
Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 4:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Eighty-one years ago on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. It would start what is now known as World War II. For over two years the Eastern Hemisphere battered itself until December 7th, 1941. On that date, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor launching the United States into the global war. On that infamous day, 21-year-old Louis Palmer was on a bus heading from Oregon to Washington for Alaska.

“And, so, finished the bus ride up onto Seattle, two more days, nights,” Louis Palmer said in a 2019 interview with Alaska historian Holly Guise. “Catch steamer to Alaska, with no, we couldn’t use any lights, comin’ up the coast and had to drive at night without lights cause they were afraid someone was going to be- could locate the targets by the light patterns. So they say. All I did was lose sleep.”

Once in Alaska, Louis Palmer found his way to Kodiak where he was stationed for a few months as a carpenter building military barracks.

WWII Veteran Louis Palmer in the 1940's
WWII Veteran Louis Palmer in the 1940's(Bruce Palmer)

“Well, see we were, I was with a company called Siems Drake it was a large contractor company at that time,” Louis Palmer said. “And they had projects all over Alaska and they were putting a crew together to go out on the Aleutians. And so I was getting tired of Kodiak after I don’t know 8 or 9 months. Volunteered for that crew to go out on the out towards the chain we got on a ship and went out to Adak I guess and so forth for a few days and then came back to an area called Sand Point.

Louis Palmer would soon find himself living in California around the age of 25. He says he chose to join the Navy.

“We lived in Hueneme near Oxnard, California at the time, my family and I,” Louis Palmer said. “And Hueneme was the headquarters for the Seabees and so bein’ a carpenter and a construction man and so forth I just hiked over to the gate and enlisted with the Seabees before the Army got me.”

He was a part of the 95th Naval Construction Battalion.

Louis Palmer worked as a carpenter with the 95th Naval Construction Battalion during WWII
Louis Palmer worked as a carpenter with the 95th Naval Construction Battalion during WWII(Bruce Palmer)

“We’d, after the landings, we went behind them [Marines] and do the building and reconstruct the airstrip or whatever we took over,” Louis Palmer said. “And, but I didn’t see any real close contact action. The Marines pretty well protected us while we did the work that they needed like airstrips, and buildings, and mess halls. We’d go over and take over, an island for instance. Get rid of the [enemy] and reinstate the island with Marines. Most of the time we were there three or four weeks.”

Despite working as a carpenter and builder, Louis Palmer was not immune to the war’s combat.

“I, except, boy we ended up when we ended up in Iwo Jima towards the end of the war,” Louis Palmer said. “We did get into some action there. But we’d dive into a dugout you know and Marines come in and take care of the like they had several banzai attacks.”

He says he was well protected by the Marines. Seventy-five years after the war ended, Louis Palmer is still going strong.

“I believe that it’s a mellow personality with an excellent sense of humor,” Louis Palmer’s son, Bruce Palmer, said. “And he hasn’t lost it to this day.”

Louis Palmer now lives at Pioneer Home in Anchorage. His family was worried that he would have to spend his 100th birthday on Aug. 29, alone due to the global pandemic. Then a small miracle happened.

“We were unsure until the day before,” Bruce Palmer said. “And only because of a pattern, they have an excellent pattern of testing down there and only because of their handling of the situation did we feel comfortable doing it.”

Louis Palmer was allowed to leave Pioneer Home to celebrate his birthday with family.

“It was great,” Bruce Palmer said. “We did a family Zoom. We had nine different participants from all over the world, my kids, his grandkids, adult grandkids, it went really well.”

Bruce Palmer says his dad doesn’t feel like a hero and that he was just doing his job at the time.

“He takes pride in it there is no doubt about that,” Bruce Palmer said. “He wears his World War II cap with pride. We were able to go back to Washington D.C. on the Honor Flight a couple years ago and that was great for him to see all the monuments. He was proud of that, yes.”

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