This 94-year-old American WW2 Veteran Fought At Okinawa Then Became A Preacher Back Home

Bombarding Okinawa 1945
Bombarding Okinawa 1945

Talmadge Welch celebrated turning 94 years old on September 30, 2016. His daughter, Gail Tinch, brought him pumpkin cookies and some mementos of those 94 years. There was a picture of Welch in his Navy uniform, a picture from his days as a preacher, pictures of family members who have passed away including his wife of 57 years, Sallie.

And there was a picture of the ship that carried him to the island of Okinawa during World War II.

Welch was born in 1922 in the rural community of Bill’s Branch, Tennessee. He joined the military towards the end of the war. Before serving in the military, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Roosevelt-instituted program to help families get through the Great Depression.

“He wasn’t quite 18,” Tinch said. “His grandmother said, ‘He’s not old enough,’ and he just said, ‘Old people are really forgetful.’ He really wanted to go because times were hard, and that gave them some money.”

As part of the CCC, Welch traveled as far as California and Washington State. He also worked on projects closer to home in Chattanooga and Pickett State Park.

“He didn’t graduate because he had to work,” Tinch added. “He and Mama got married when he was 18 and she was 16.”

The two had gone to school together in a small country school. The teacher made them sit together so that Sallie could keep him under control in class.

After he had joined the Navy, he was stationed in San Diego in the preparation of joining the Pacific Fleet. Before shipping out, Sallie and their baby daughter, Patty Jean, traveled out to see him.

Although confined to barracks, Welch snuck out with a friend to visit. They were picked up by a car of Naval officers when they hitchhiked back. They tried to get out of the car before reaching the base so that they could sneak back in, but the officers said, “Don’t worry, sailor, you’re with us.”

Soon, he boarded the USS Neshoba bound for Okinawa. He fought as part of the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater in 1945.

They were preparing to attack the Japanese mainland when the US dropped the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrendered.

While serving in the war, he prayed to God, “If I make it back OK, I’ll preach for you.”

After returning home from the war, he worked as a coal miner and a mining superintendent. Later, he fulfilled his promise and became a Baptist minister who preached for the Mineral Springs, Mount Union and Sand Springs congregations.

Sallie passed away in 1997. The two have six children and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, SFGate reported.

He has resided at the Standing Stone nursing home for about four years.

He’s always happy to see visitors. If you ask how he is doing, he always replies, “I am blessed.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE