Leland Forrest is a rare breed of human being. For every 10 women who live to be 100 years old, only two men make it. Forrest, 100, is one of those. On Saturday, Dec. 12, the London resident will be 101.
Forrest is slightly hunched in his century of living, but his handshake is firm and he continues to walk without the aid of a cane or walker. Longevity is a part of his genetic makeup. An older brother hit the century plus one and a cousin also remains alive in her 100th year.
He was born in Chicago on Dec. 12, 1914, the third of three boys. His father worked for International Harvester’s tractor works in their office, while mom fulfilled the “typical” role of homemaker.
Upon graduation from high school, Forrest got a job as an office boy for Scripps Howard newspapers. It was the beginning of a career which spanned 50 years — he retired at age 67 — on the business side of the newspaper industry.
But with many careers in the mid-20th century, World War II put them on hold. In January of 1942, just about one month following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Forrest enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was sent to school for about a year during which time he was trained to be a radio man.
He was assigned to bases in the Pacific Theater, first on the island of Tonga, where he found the natives to be very friendly. His second assignment was a base on New Caledonia, an island half way between Australia and New Zealand.
His radio shack was at the edge of a bomb dump, which had a sailor in a tower as a watchman. Forrest said he was instructed to fire warning shots from his pistol in case of an emergency at the bomb dump.
Forrest recounted a day when a bomb exploded in the dump, for an apparent unknown reason. That explosion set off other thunderous blasts. Forrest said with all those bombs going off, he barely heard the watchman’s warning pistol shots.
Forrest’s final assignment was as a radioman aboard the light cruiser, the U.S.S. Topeka. It was a ship which took its place among other ships of the fleet which was set to invade Japan in the summer of 1945.
“From horizon to horizon, all you could see was ships,” Forrest said. “It was a big, big thing, believe me.”
Forrest said the crew was called “to general quarters, expecting the invasion to start.”
Instead they were told the war was over.
“You can’t imagine how good that felt because all of us would go home again and we’d be living,” Forrest said. “It was an important thing that you were going to live when it was expected you would not.”
As with many careers, it has its ups and downs, but Forrest finally found his niche as an office manager for a group which published small town newspapers.
He was on a call to one of the company’s papers in Martin’s Ferry, Va. when he called on some old friends. Actually one was old friend, Alicia, as her husband Ed, had died. Forrest had become acquainted with them back in his hometown. His work had transferred him to that part of the country.
Forrest’s first marriage had ended and he found getting reacquainted with Alicia was a good thing for him. They were married and spent the rest of their lives together in St.Clairsville, Ohio until she passed away in 2003.
He was accepted into her children’s family and he cherishes the fact they call him dad and grandpa.
He moved to London in 2005 to be closer to his daughter, who resides in Columbus.
They will gather with him on Saturday to celebrate his entry into his second century of life.
It’s fun being 101,” Forrest said with a smile. “You’re a curiosity.”
Dean Shipley can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617, on Facebook at Dean Shipley or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.