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Photos by Frank Prager
World War II veteran John Lavitus and his wife, Bertha, have been married 67 years.
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Photo by Frank Prager
John Lavitus, 101, has mementos from World War II as well as his 100th birthday.
GODFREY — John Lavitus greets you with a ready smile and a strong handshake. His mind and memory are clear and sharp. You would never guess this spry and engaging World War II veteran is 101 years old.
Born in Nova Scotia in Canada, Lavitus moved several times during his childhood, finally arriving in Alton at the age of 15. He attended Lincoln School and Roosevelt Junior High School before going on to Alton High School.
At Alton High, he played football but emphasizes he had to work his way through school in order to graduate.
“I worked loading coal and also unloaded wheat down at the flour mill,” he says. “I also worked at the A&P grocery store on Belle Street.”
Lavitus enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served all over the world during World War II. He was stationed on merchant ships that carried light cargo and ammunition.
“We traveled alone because if we got hit, the entire ship would have blown up,” he emphasizes.
The first ship he was assigned to traveled for 17 days to Liverpool in England, where it unloaded guns, tanks, ammunition and other combat supplies. He remembers it being so cold he could not walk on the ship’s deck.
“We had to walk through the shaft alley to move about the ship,” he says. The shaft alley was the path through the ship in which all of the pipes and electrical wiring ran.
After coming back to the United States, he was assigned to another ship that traveled to North Africa, Italy and Corsica in France. He said he looked up one morning to see hundreds of planes flying overhead. He later found out they were involved in the D-Day invasion.
His service took him to all areas of the globe. He went through the Panama Canal on a tanker ship and remembers having to sleep in a cemetery in the Philippines because there was no room on the ship.
Lavitus was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
“We didn’t realize it at the time but found out later what had happened,” he says.
His ship later traveled to New Guinea and Okinawa, finally returning home to San Francisco. Discharged in August 1944, Lavitus spent two years, three months and 27 days in the service. Lavitus was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the European-African-Middle East campaign.
Having hired on at Owens-Illinois Glass Co. in Alton before entering the service, he returned to work there upon returning home. It was there that he met his wife, Bertha. He and Bertha have been married for 67 years and have lived at Methodist Village in Godfrey for eight years.
Lavitus worked in the selecting department at the glass works in quality control. He retired in 1976 after 40 years of employment.
In retirement, he has volunteered at the VFW on Alby Street, cutting the grass there until just a few years ago. He has also been active in St. Matthews Church.
Still living independently with his wife and enjoying life to the fullest, this World War II veteran can recount stories going back to almost the beginning of the last century. John Lavitus has traveled the world and has the energy and enthusiasm to share his memories.