Alzheimer’s has dimmed his memory and some of his speed, but not his smile. Full of life, Howard Oscar Gilcrease is known for his quick-wit and joyful nature. According to his son-in-law, Kevin Dutra, “there’s never a dull moment.”
Howard was born on January 13, 1918 in Joyce, Louisiana. He developed a love for the Navy at an early age, seeing navy men around the docks at New Orleans shipyards where his uncle worked. In 1935, at 17, he enlisted. A year later, he was on his way to Norfolk Training Center in Virginia, a member of Platoon 58.
His first assignment was as a ship’s cook on the U.S.S. Marblehead in 1937. It was here that Howard got his first taste of war as they sailed on the Huangpu River through a battle between the Japanese and the Chinese. He still remembers the harrowing sight of bodies floating on the river.
While on leave after Marblehead, Howard dozed off on a train to Fort Worth. As he slept, a young girl, Doris Marie Story, quietly painted his fingernails. They remained close as Howard’s service continued, and he moved up in the ranks. The couple finally married on December 5, 1941.
Just two days later, Pearl Harbor unfolded, devastating the nation. One of Howard’s former ships, the U.S.S California, sank that day. Howard reported for duty and was shipped off as part of the Pacific Fleet. From June 1943 to December 1944, Howard was Chief Commissary Officer in amphibious forces, South Pacific. He established large galleys and mess halls on Russell and Green Islands, feeding approximately 3,100 personnel.
Howard was honorably discharged from the Navy on March 7, 1957 after 20 years, one month and 13 days of active service. He received countless commendations, decorations and medals, including: Good Conduct, Asiatic-Pacific, American Campaign, American Defense, China Service, Occupation Service and a World War II Victory Medal. He continued his active involvement in civil service and reserves until 1982 when finally, he retired for good.
On October 17, the Susannah Biggers Bibb Chapter NSDAR, Plano Chapter honored Howard for his military service by presenting him with a yard sign declaring him a proud WWII and Korean War veteran.
“He’s still caring, still compassionate,” said son-in-law Kevin. “Although Alzheimer’s has taken much of his memory, Howard still retains the integrity and strength of character he gained while in the Navy.”
Howard is the proud father of four daughters and has 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He lives a quiet life with his youngest daughter and his son-in-law in Plano and will turn 99 this January.
For more on Plano’s veterans, visit the virtual edition of our November 2016 issue.