Henry Goehres was shipped to the Pacific Theater, where he came face to face with combat.
Henry Goehres was 25 years old and working as a welder in the steel mills of Pennsylvania when he was drafted into the U.S. Army on Dec. 7, 1941 — Pearl Harbor Day.
He completed his basic training in Texas and was assigned to fight in the European Theater of World War II. Classified as a sharpshooter, a job that requires perfect eyesight, Goehres was preparing to leave for Europe when doctors checked his eyes and informed him he needed a new prescription for his glasses.
His unit went without him, so he was reassigned and sent to the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, then a U.S. commonwealth. He recalls fondly a stopover in New Guinea when he recognized his brother George's troop ship in the harbor. Moments later, he was face to face with his brother, 9,000 miles from home in the middle of a world war.
The Winter Garden veteran — a private first class — turned 101 this week, and most of his war memories have faded with time, but he remembers being in combat in an infantry division.
“I didn't kill anyone,” he said matter-of-factly. “Just (hit) an arm or leg, that's all.”
When he was discharged in February 1946, he returned to his birthplace of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and resumed his welding position at the steel mill, building railroad cars.
His career there lasted 43 years.
In that time, he met and married his wife of more than 54 years, Mildred, and they had a son and a daughter. Goehres also has six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Goehres said he wanted to go to college to be a history teacher, but his family lacked the funds. He did, however, teach Sunday school at his church for 72 years.
Eleven years ago, he moved from Pennsylvania to Florida to live with his daughter, Ruth Oyler. They have lived in Winter Garden for seven years.
Goehres’s parents immigrated from Germany before he was born. He grew up with the German language spoken in his home and learned English once he attended school. When relatives in Germany wrote letters to America, Goehres translated them for his younger family members who didn’t know the ancestral language.
The 101-year-old has always been a sports fan and has remained true to his Pennsylvania teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers. As a child, he remembers listening to the baseball games on the radio. In later years, he attended the games.
Oyler said her father remained active until he was 90, keeping up with his vegetable garden, mowing the yard, cleaning his house gutters and washing his car on Saturday mornings.
Now, he spends his time reading magazines such as “Guideposts” and “Readers’ Digest” and watching game shows like “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
For his milestone 100th birthday, his church, Lutheran Church People of Faith, held a huge celebration bash and everyone who attended wore a hat in his honor. Anyone who knows Goehres knows he is never without his fedora.
This year was a little more subdued, with a celebratory meal in his honor.
When asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said, with a smile on his face, “I want to be happy.”