By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A World War II U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Battle of Iwo Jima still leads an active, independent life in Yukon as he approaches his 94th birthday.
Howard Lingerfelt moved to Yukon in 1979 and still lives in the same house on Mabel Fry Boulevard.
More than 75 years ago, he served on a Navy ship that helped the U.S. capture the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army.
Raised in Guthrie and Oklahoma City, Lingerfelt joined the Navy in 1944 at age 17 while he was a senior at Central High School in Oklahoma City.
“I went to boot camp in San Diego (California),” he said. “After 12 weeks, they sent us to Coronado Island for amphibious training for three months. I then took a train for a three-day trip to Astoria, Oregon.”
Lingerfelt served in 1945-46 on the USS Kingsbury, which was launched by Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. before being commissioned by the Navy in December 1944 to transport troops to and from WW II combat areas.
U.S. Marines invaded the Japanese island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945 after months of naval and air bombardments. After the U.S. dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the USS Kingsbury was part of a convoy carrying troops to invade Japan.
About 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle, which ranks among the bloodiest in Marine Corps history.
STEERING THE SHIP
Seaman First Class Lingerfelt was a helmsman on the USS Kingsbury, which arrived at Iwo Jima in March 1945 to embark battle-weary U.S. Marines.
“I steered the ship,” he said.
Lingerfelt recalled the terror of getting caught in a typhoon near Okinawa, Japan while headed to Iwo Jima.
“The ship was loaded up with troops and supplies,” he related. “It busted some of the seams in the bottom of the ship and we had to stop in Guam to get repairs.”
Seaman Lingerfelt made four trips on landing craft with troops to a beach near Mount Suribachi.
“We took hundreds of Marines ashore each trip,” he said.
The island of Iwo Jima became globally recognized when the Associated Press published an iconic photograph of six U.S. Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the final stages of the Pacific War.
The photo was taken in February 1945.
“I was there two weeks after the flag was raised,” Lingerfelt said.
When the U.S. secured Iwo Jima on March 16, 1945, it prepared the way for the last and largest battle in the Pacific: The invasion of Okinawa.
Supporting U.S. occupation operations in Japan, the USS Kingsbury cleared Pearl Harbor in September 1945 and arrived in Sasebo, Japan to debark Marine troops. The USS Kingsbury was decommissioned in April 1946 after end-of-war “mopping-up” operations.
“We traveled all over the Pacific,” the retired sailor said of his overseas service. “I collected seashells over several years.
“I had a duffel bag full of shells that was stolen while I was in New Orleans (Louisiana) getting train tickets.”
Lingerfelt was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1952 after four years of active duty and four years in the reserves.
Lingerfelt returned to Oklahoma and went to work at John A. Brown Department Store, the
predecessor to Dillard’s in Oklahoma City.
His wife Lora, who he met during his senior year in high school, also worked there.
The Lingerfelts were both born in Stillwater – Lora in April 1924 and Howard in July 1926 – and happened to be delivered by the same doctor.
Howard and Lora married in 1946 and will celebrate their 74th anniversary this September.
They have four daughters, one son, 12 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
Howard worked about 44 years as a drapery installer, first at John A. Brown Department Store and later at Sears.
Howard and his wife lived in Oklahoma City before moving to Yukon some 41 years ago.
Howard is still in the house and Lora is staying at a rest home.
“I enjoy playing the piano, crossword puzzles and coloring,” the WW II veteran said. “I’ve been a member of the Silver Chords at the Dale Robertson Center since 1976.”