COAL CITY, WV (WVNS) — Cecil Ward has lived most of his life — and that’s 102 years of living — in Coal City in Raleigh County, raising a family and retiring from the mines.

But in 1942, he was far away from his hometown. World War II was raging, and the U.S. Army drafted Ward. He was 22 and had never traveled outside the state.

The Army sent him to the South Pacific.

“We all went first to New Caladonia Island in the South Pacific, for stationary,” Ward recalled in October 2022. “Then we we went on up to Guadalcanal, later on. It was a combat area, there. They was having a lot of trouble there.”

For the next three years, Ward would be stationed in one South Pacific combat zone after another, with snipers firing guns and soldiers dropping bombs.

He recalled once digging deep into sand so he and fellow soldiers could hide underground when bombs dropped. They had thousands of unexpected “visitors.”

“We had a big hole we got in when the Japanese come and bombed us,” he said. “We’d come get in the hole, and them crabs would come crawling down the hill, and they’d fall in them holes with us. When they got ahold of you, they wouldn’t turn loose.”

He said the crabs pinched the soldiers and clung to their clothing.

Like many veterans of his generation, Ward says he’s chosen to forget some wartime experiences. The Army honorably discharged him in December of 1945, with medals.  He says he was overjoyed to come home.

“I prayed to the Lord all the time, asked Him to protect me and watch after me and He did, ” said Ward. “He did.”

He met his wife, Louise, soon after he came home. She died in 2014, but the couple was married for 66 years and reared their three children.

“When I first seen her, I thought she was about the prettiest girl I’d ever saw,” he recalled, smiling.

His daughters say he often shares stories about his service..

Seventy nine years after he was drafted for war, Ward remains a strong supporter of the military. And he says Veteran’s Day celebrations send a message.

“It means the country hasn’t forgotten the veterans. It means they’re still thinking about them,” he said. “You know, like the veterans. If it hadn’t been for veterans, we might have been under some other government.”