Kirk Boxleitnerkboxleitner@ptleader.com As Veterans Day approached, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock honored living veterans among its student body, and the school was …
As Veterans Day approached, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock honored living veterans among its student body, and the school was honored for its support of veterans through its educational programs.
Retired Army Col. Mary Forbes, assistant director for veterans services at the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, presented a certificate to John Barrett, incoming board president for the school, designating the school as a “Veteran Supportive Campus.”
“I wore a uniform for 30 years and raised five kids,” Forbes said Nov. 7 in the school’s Captain Western Building on the water. “Veterans come from communities like this, and it’s to those communities that they return. When veterans come together, they know they share similar experiences.”
Forbes lauded the school for supporting veterans and their families by helping to connect them with services and referrals to meet their needs.
“Just six or eight years ago, when I started doing this job, almost no campuses had anything like this,” Forbes said.
Betsy Davis, executive director of the school, praised both Barrett and outgoing board president David Blessing for their roles in helping to make the school a “Veteran Supportive Campus.”
Student Bob Spychalski touted the perseverance of America’s veterans, from the Revolutionary and Civil wars through two world wars and the nation’s current conflicts.
Spychalski enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983. He visited the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia, in 2015, when he and his wife met then-91-year-old Frank Matthews, a volunteer museum guide and fellow Marine who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
“Mr. Matthews pointed to a picture on the wall,” Spychalski said. “It was his unit, hitting the beach. He pointed to other pictures, one of him with a Browning automatic rifle in his hand, and another with an 83-pound flamethrower on his back. Flamethrowers were a prime target for the Japanese. I read one account that the life expectancy for a Marine carrying a flamethrower on Iwo Jima was less than 10 minutes.”
Matthews told Spychalski about shouldering that burden, as well as engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy when he was just 19.
“I asked him if he witnessed the famous flag-raising over Mount Suribachi,” Spychalski said. “He began to tell of a visit to the dentist. I’m thinking he’s old and getting his stories mixed up, but he had a toothache during the battle and found a Navy dentist who’d set up a clinic on the beach, even as the battle was raging around them. He ended up getting a tooth drilled and filled as the famous flag-raising was taking place. He laughed when he told me he still has that filling.”
Despite being wounded three times, Matthews insisted the Navy corpsmen not report his injuries so he wouldn’t get shipped out.
One of them, to his hand, cost Matthews his dreams of playing the piano professionally, but he went on to earn five graduate degrees in music and taught orchestra and music history at colleges and universities throughout California for 40 years.
“I still don’t play (piano) as well as I did when I was 17,” Matthews told Spychalski. “So what? I don’t do a lot of things as well as I did when I was 17.”
Before he pointed out that Nov. 10 this year was the 243rd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, Spychalski encouraged his fellow students to show their appreciation to veterans and their families for their sacrifices on behalf of their country.
“I think about these people, and so many like them throughout our nation’s history, who have defended our freedoms and sacrificed much, allowing us to live according to our choosing, such as our choice to attend this school and learn a new occupation,” Spychalski said.