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Veteran's surprise comes after 69 years

Amos LaHaie turned 98 on April 4. His five sons and many family members — five generations in all — came from near and far to celebrate with him.

That alone was a special treat. But his middle son, Greg LaHaie, 63, of Hillsboro, had a surprise in store. He presented his dad with his honorable discharge paperwork, something Amos LaHaie never got after serving with the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - On his 98th birthday, Amos LaHaie is flanked by his sons Gary, left, and Greg LaHaie as he receives his official honorable discharge papers and medals for his service in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

Back in 1945 when the war ended, those who served in the Merchant Marine were not recognized as military personnel, and thus did not receive veteran status when they were discharged.

“A lot of years went by,” Greg said, and he recalls his father never considering himself a veteran. “At church on Veterans Day, when the minister asked all the veterans to stand up to be recognized, my dad never stood.”

That all changed in 1988 with a federal court order granting Merchant Marines veteran status and making them eligible for veterans’ benefits. Amos LaHaie never pursued getting his paperwork, Greg said. So Greg set out to get his dad’s paperwork — and war medals — 69 years after the fact.

The Merchant Marine was an integral part of America’s victory in World War II. Delivering supplies and ammunition all over the world aboard Victory ships, the mariners sailed around the globe to supply ordnance to the troops.by: COURTESY PHOTO - Amos LaHaie in 1945 as a Merchant Marine.

“The officers and men of the Merchant Marine, by their devotion to duty in the face of enemy action, as well as natural dangers of the sea, have brought us the tools to finish the job. Their contribution to final victory will be long remembered,” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the country’s merchant mariners.

Greg LaHaie related the story his father told him about his experiences during the war.

Amos LaHaie worked for a time welding Victory ships at Oregon Shipbuilding Corp., one of three Kaiser shipyards in Portland. At the time he joined the Merchant Marine in 1945, he was 29, married, and had two sons. LaHaie sailed from Seattle in May 1945 on the “S.S. Lawrence Victory,” a ship he had worked on, Greg said.

Before he shipped out, Amos gave his wife, Marjorie, a map of the Pacific and took an identical one with him. He had a plan in mind.

The mission of the “Lawrence Victory,” highly secretive at the time, was to deliver bombs to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.

“The ship was loaded to the gunwales with (10,000-ton) highly explosive materials,” Greg said. “They zigzagged all the way to Saipan.”

Not allowed radio contact at any time or lights after sunset to sail undetected, “they were definitely in stealth mode.”

Crew members were able to send letters home, Greg explained, but each letter was opened and read to make sure it gave no information on the ship’s whereabouts.

Before Amos mailed a letter to Marjorie, he would lay the letter over the map and put a pinhole in the paper to indicate his location. When Marjorie received the letter, she overlayed the letter on her matching map and would know Amos’ approximate location.

Having successfully delivered its cargo, the “Lawrence Victory” was headed back to Seattle in the summer of 1945 when the crew heard the news: The war was over.

Once back in port, Greg said, “he never bothered to stick around long enough to fill out discharge paperwork.”

On April 4, Amos finally got that honorable discharge paperwork, along with his Victory Medal, framed and ready to hang in his room.

One of his brothers, Richard, was killed in the war, Greg said.

“We’re glad you made it back, Dad. Especially me, since I was born after the war,” Greg joked.

After the war, Amos LaHaie and his brother Eddie started LaHaie’s Man’s Shop on the corner of Third and Main in downtown Hillsboro. Greg LaHaie took over the shop in 1999 when his father retired. The shop still bears the LaHaie name, although it has been sold and now specializes in letterman jackets.

“I’m glad that at 98, he’s still alive and is getting some recognition,” Greg said. “It’s a happy ending.”



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