MAY 26, 1997

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Five survivors of five separate wars

five survivors

Left to right: Laurence Shirley, WWI; Ed Delvecchio, Vietnam; Bill Fletcher, Spanish-American War; Marie Jacobson, Koean War; Ed Larson, WWII.
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
The photo above can never be duplicated again. Yes, they are all local people. In the photo's center is Bill Fletcher of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Today, there's no veteran of that war left. I've known and written about five of them, and Bill was the last.
   Other vets in the photo include Laurence Shirley of World War I at left. Next to Laurence, you observe Edward Delvecchio of Woodinville, a Vietnam vet. Then there's Marie Jacobson of the Korean War. At the extreme right is Ed Larson of World War II.
   Let's now zero in on the veteran in the center who is Bill Fletcher of the Spanish-American War of 1898. He's indeed a separate character. A fabled spinner of tales of long ago.
   I'm not too certain how many of the above have since died. Three, I think.

The photo scene
   Note that the five are laughing. Earlier, four of them and I weren't. Well, Bill does more talking than laughing.
   I'd arranged for the five to meet me at the meeting hall of the American Legion Post in Bothell at 1 p.m. We all met, with the exception of Bill Fletcher. We waited and waited. No show. Finally, I went into the "bar" room, and there was Bill, bellied up to the bar, finishing his second drink and reaching for his third.
   I finally got Bill to wobble into the meeting hall. Thus you see him, and he feels no pain. The other four veterans laugh at what Bill tells about. I've heard most of his stories already, but the others haven't and are enjoying the exhortation of "his" war.
   It's a pleasant sight to see the five vets guffaw, especially the gal. Oh yes, Ed Larson, on the right, is laughing. But the bearded Ed Delvecchio isn't sure if he's hearing the absolute truth. Sure, but Fletcher may be stretching the truth a bit as many veterans do. Delvecchio's laughter is sort of subdued. Of course, when one has three sorts of fire water in them, one can really spin a yarn and add anything one wants to.
   What really brought out the laughter was when Bill said his war was the worst war we ever had. Boy, what a statement!
   A week after I wrote my article, Bill Fletcher called to say he had a gift for me. Could I come and get it? I went.
   He said, "In appreciation of the article, I'm giving you a medallion that was made from the bronze propeller of the flagship of Admiral Dewey aboard the USS Olympia during the battle at Manila Bay, where we defeated the Spanish fleet. I'd served on the admiral's warship."
   On the one side is printed, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley. USS Olympia," and a sketch of the ship. On the other side is, "Made from the propeller of Admiral Dewey's flagship, which served in the battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898."
   After the warship was decommissioned, an order was issued that every sailor who had served aboard her during the battle would receive a medallion. Now I have Bill Fletcher's medal. They are very scarce and considered a valuable collector's item. I tried to photograph the medallion for you to see but it didn't come out clear enough. Too bad.