RICHLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The last surviving veteran of a group of more than 90 Kalamazoo County men who fought in World War II will be honored Sunday.
Fred Spencer joined the Army National Guard in 1940.
“The reason I joined is because all my buddies I’m running around with belonged to the National Guard. So, they talked me into it,” he said Friday.
Spencer was just 16 years old when he signed up.
“I was supposed to be 18, so I fibbed a little bit,” he said. “They didn’t care how old you were in those days, you know?”
Spencer, now 93, and a group of more than 90 soldiers from Kalamazoo County trained and fought together in the Pacific Theater. They were all members of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division of Company C’s 126th Infantry Regiment.
“We were the first outfit to take offensive action against the enemy,” said Spencer.
Spencer was shot in the chest. The bullet pierced his lung.
He earned a Purple Heart.
“We had quite a bit of contact with the Japanese,” he recalled. “Every day we were shooting people and having our own people shot, carried out. (It) seemed like we were there forever.”
About 20 of the 90 men from Spencer’s group died in the war. The survivors made a pact:
“We all chipped in and bought a large bottle of whiskey, and we said the last man standing will get that bottle of whiskey,” Spencer said. “Well, the original bottle of whiskey disappeared. Somebody drank it probably.”
The second to last man died two months ago, making Spencer the last man standing.
“(My war buddies) were the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “They were my friends. They were like brothers to me.”
And although time passes, memories from that era are hard to erase.
“I miss my friends, though. And I’m not too sure I want to be the last man standing, but I am.”
Although the National Guardsmen’s original bottle of whiskey is missing, all is not lost. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1527 in Kalamazoo bought a new bottle and will honor Spencer during a ceremony at 1 p.m. Sunday.