BY ABIGAIL CURTIS
FOR THE MIDCOAST BEACON
FREEDOM — Roy Ward missed the original Armistice Day by just one year.
The World War II veteran celebrated his 90th birthday on Nov. 11 and took a little time to reminisce about his war experiences and the Maine of his youth.
“You knew all of your neighbors,” he said of growing up in the 1920s and 1930s in the small Waldo County town of Freedom.
“Everybody was poor. You never knew any different.”
The sharp-witted nonagenarian was an athlete during his high school years at Freedom Academy, where he played basketball and baseball. He grew up on his parents’ farm, but wanted something different for his own life and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July 1941.
As soon as he went to boot camp, he came down with homesickness.
“I wondered what on earth I had done,” Ward said, smiling.
But he stuck it out through boot camp and then through the Navy’s training courses to become a motor machinist. He was training at Ford Motors in Dearborn, Mich., when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
After that momentous event, Ward began his wartime service. He spent most of those years doing convoy duty in the Atlantic, first stationed on the USS Mizpah, and then on two destroyer tenders — the USS Shenandoah and the USS Yosemite.
Ward’s ships escorted oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico to New York City. It was a crucial task, as Nazi U-Boats sunk many Allied ships off the Eastern U.S. seaboard before convoys began, he said.
“We made runs on submarines and dropped depth charges,” Ward said. “We had no sightings, and never saw any debris.”
What he did see plenty of was the inside of the engine room.
“It was hot and noisy,” Ward remembered. “You would come out drenched in sweat.”
The Navy was an interesting place for a Maine farm boy.
“You met people from all over, from every state in the union,” Ward said. “And as long as you treat the Navy right, they’ll treat you right.”
On one of his leaves, Ward was roller skating at the Hilltop rink near Freedom, when he collided with a young woman named Marguerite.
“Somehow we got tangled up and I fell down,” she said. “I think he did help me up.”
They’ve been married 62 years.
“I wasn’t a very experienced skater,” Roy Ward said.
No matter. Despite his early skating fumbles, the couple went on to raise two children and to enjoy life, going to all the Saturday night dances they could find.
Roy Ward worked at Knowlton’s Garage in Freedom for 39 years, and when that became a convenience store, he worked for six more years at Bryant Stove Works in Thorndike.
“We used to go to a lot of places,” Ward said. “No more — we’re too old. But it was fun while we did it.”