Celebrating centenarian

Clarence and Irene Stine prepare to cut the cake at the veteran’s 100th birthday party on Sunday, June 6, at the VMA Drop Zone.

A Ladysmith World War II veteran celebrated his 100th birthday, Sunday, but he almost didn’t make it home alive from the fighting. 

An enemy sniper’s bullet may have broken the face of Clarence Stine as he served in the U.S. Army nearly 80 years ago, but it couldn’t shatter his fighting spirt. That spirit was on full display June 6, when more than 100 of Stine’s family and friends turned out to honor the centenarian during a birthday party at the VMA Drop Zone.

“I’m working on my second 100 years now. If I make that, there will be people lined up out the door to celebrate,” Stine said.

One year exactly to the day of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a sniper shot nearly took Stine’s life. He carried the scars from that nighttime shot through the New Guinea jungle for almost eight decades. He lost an eye. He lost a cheekbone. He lost his upper jaw. His bottom jaw was broken. He lost many of his teeth.

Not long after being honorably discharged from the service and upon returning home, he joined the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post in 1945. He served for a time as VFW post commander in Ladysmith. For years, he and other past service men and women devotedly took part in special ceremonies commemorating Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other special observances honoring those who served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service for their country.

Clarence was nearly among the latter when he was shot on Dec. 7, 1942.

In the beginning

Clarence was born in Rusk County. He left school as a young man to go to work. He was living in Chicago, Ill. and working as a press operator for RR Donnelley Printing when he was drafted at the age of 21 into the U.S. Army in November 1941, one month before the Pearl Harbor attack. He was inducted at Fort Sheridan, Ill. and received training in heavy weapons at Camp Croft, S.C. 

He was a private first class in Company G of the 126th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater of Operations. He was going to be a machine-gunner in the war.

After training, he cycled through a series of military bases in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts before being issued a brand new 30 caliber M-1 Garand rifle.

He boarded a troop train for California, bunking in the Cow Palace indoor arena near San Francisco. He was among thousands of troops boarded onto a retrofitted luxury liner on a three-week cruise, ferried across the Pacific Ocean to war. The troops were escorted to sea by Navy destroyers under the Golden Gate Bridge and past Alcatraz Island.

The ship landed in South Australia and service men set up a bivouac camp in preparation for more training. The next stop for Clarence was Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

There, the troops spent weeks in the mountains. Food rations were dropped by C-47 transport planes. If fog, rain or clouds socked in the mountains, soldiers went days without eating. The troops were pushing toward Buna Mission and Buna Village, making advances in far eastern New Guinea. Snipers were everywhere and had soldiers in their sights.

The jungle was dark. The moon hadn’t risen. Stine could see bullets kicking up dirt. He kept alert for snipers in the trees. He took knife in hand. He was ready to fight. Then he got hit. 

“It put me out of business,” Stine said in a 2016 Ladysmith News story about his war experiences.

Time for healing

Stine was placed on a stretcher and rushed to a field hospital where doctors treated his wounds before he was flown to a hospital in Australia.

“I was all wrapped up. I was all under bandages so I couldn’t see anything,” Stine said in an earlier interview.

He was transported back to the U.S. with a few dozen other wounded but ambulatory service men on a Liberty  Class ship, sailing through the Panama Canal and picking up more troops before docking in New York, N.Y. He was among the first soldiers returning from the Pacific Theater. He recalls the ship passing the Statue of Liberty.

“If I could have reached out I would have kissed her,” Stine said.

Stine recuperated for three months at Holland Hospital in New York before being transferred to O’Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Mo.

He was discharged in December 1944, two years after being shot and slightly more than three years after being drafted. He received the following medals and decorations: Purple Heart for wounds received as a result of hostile actions on Dec. 7, 1942; Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to the 126th Infantry Regiment for service from June 23, 1942 to Jan. 23, 1943; American Defense Service Medal for active duty from Sept. 8, 1939 to Dec. 7, 1941; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star for service in one named campaign; World War II Victory Medal; Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II; and Philippine Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star.

Honoring a veteran

Stine summed up his secret of longevity.

“Hard work,” he said while celebrating last weekend with friends and family.

The Stine family had five generations in attendance, some traveling from as far away as Missouri.

“I never expected such a big crowd,” said Irene Stine as she sat beside her husband. “It is sure nice they turned out.”

Stine’s granddaughter Kim Dickinson also was grateful for the large audience. “I want to thank everyone who came out,” she said.

Clarence Stine also acknowledged his appreciation, not only for the well-wishers but also for his long life. He is thankful to have survived the war. He is indebted to the many family members and friends who turned out to celebrate his 100th birthday.

“It was a hell of a good crowd. I hope they enjoyed it,” Stine said.

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