If one’s life can be likened to a long, challenging period of employment and a series of demanding choices, Stan Dudley likely has earned the praise for a job well done.

When you ask him about his life experiences, Dudley, who reaches his 100th birthday on Nov. 7, will explain in no uncertain terms that he views the tasks of daily life — whether in career, relationships or recreation — as something that can always be improved upon in big or little ways.

Just getting by, coasting or doing the minimum required are alien concepts that don’t exist in Dudley’s personal universe, which encompasses service in World War II, an active and loving marriage of 63 years, raising a family and teaching industrial and engineering technology for 34 years.

Twenty-seven of those 34 years were at Central Washington University, 1957 through 1984.

His value of always improving oneself “isn’t a big deal,” Dudley says. He doesn’t harang people about it or push it, but he believes it’s something you do and, if you’re a teacher, you pass it on.

“It’s how I was brought up, it’s part of the all the things that happened in my life and what I learned from them, and, I suppose, it’s the choices I made along the way, the kind of choices everyone has to make,” said Dudley. “It’s what you’re exposed to over the course of your life, a little here a little there, and when they’re put together you have a kind of foundation in your life.

“And, if you pay attention to all those things, you kind of see how God intended you to be. For me it seemed to be always ‘I can do it better.’”

AFTER-SCHOOL TRADITION

Listening to Dudley share about his life is like being transported in a time machine that spans generations, giving insight into another time of the nation’s life.

Dudley grew up near a small town in Maine on his family’s farm and acknowledges “we were poor but I didn’t realize it as everyone else was poor, too.” There was lots of love and respect in the family, he recalls.

He was responsible for farm chores and some were done by horsepower. He has a memory of his father pointing out Dudley’s sloppy effort to clear out hay with a rake from a tight corner of a hay field. He did better after that.

Then there was an older friend of his mother’s, a former teacher, who seemed to nearly always be visiting his mom at the same time he got home from attending early elementary school grades. He went to a two-room school building in the village of Brettons Mills.

“This woman, I think, didn’t have children of her own, and she always asked me, at some point after I came through the door and got settled, ‘and what did you learn in school today?’ And I always tried to do my best to explain to my mother and her just exactly what I did learn. I think this practice started in the first grade and kind of ended when I was in the fifth grade. I believe she died then. Maybe it wasn’t every school day, but it was often enough that it’s a strong memory.”

Dudley said with this after-school tradition came a heightened awareness of what he was learning and where this knowledge might be taking him in life. Often in the back of his mind at school was the thought of how he could best express, day by day, what he was learning and how he could apply any new skills he gained.

It wasn’t a pressure thing, he recalls, to tell what he was learning, but a kind of fun challenge.

“I suppose it built in my mind that it was normal to learn something everyday, to somehow improve your education everyday, to move ahead and not just sit still with nothing to do.”

He graduated from Livermore High School in 1936 as an honor student and went to work in Portland, Maine for the Burnham & Morrill Packing Co., famous for its B & M Brick Oven Baked Beans. There he put his work values into play. He said he couldn’t just sit around when there was a lull in his responsibilities waiting for giant pressure cookers to finish their cooking.

“So I sometimes got a rag and some polish and shined up the brass of the pressure and temperature gauges,” said Dudley. “I always had to try and find something to do.”

SOMBER SIGHT

When asked, Dudley will tell you his most fulfilling life experiences were his marriage and family, serving in World War II and teaching at CWU.

As for WWII, the global conflagration came suddenly to U.S. territory and the nation’s armed forces.

The war in Europe started in fall 1939 and many believed it was only a matter of time before the United States would be drawn in to the conflict on behalf of England, France and other allies. War industries in the U.S. were ramping up along with its armed forces.

Dudley said he had a high draft number as of early 1941 and would be called up soon. He didn’t want to go into the U.S. Army.

He found out the U.S. Naval Reserves was closed to new recruits, as was the regular Navy. When he finally received his army induction notice, he took another quick trip to the Navy recruiter’s office but found the Navy Reserve still closed — but there were a few openings for longer enlistments in the Navy. So he signed up for six years and to be trained as a signalman.

It was May 1941.

Boot camp included volunteering as an on-call bugler and band member that reduced his boot camp marching work and took him to community parades in the region.

“It’s a long story but I fired 100 percent on the firing range,” Dudley said. “This caused a great commotion as it is believed I was the only boot to have ever scored 100 on the firing range up to that time.”

He later was sent to San Diego to train as a signalman but first had to take the mandatory radio training before going into his signalman specialty. As it turned out, he and many others decided to go into radio operation training and specialize in radio duties.

Dudley’s training was due to end Dec. 12 but came to a shocking halt when Japanese Imperial naval aircraft attacked U.S. Navy ships and installations at Pearl Harbor at Oahu in Hawaii, plunging the nation into World War II on two fronts.

“We were all given a rifle, no ammunition, a helmet and a gasmask and were put on the beaches around San Diego to be ready for any enemy landings. They said if things got hot, why, they’d bring us the ammunition. They didn’t want these crazy sailors shooting at everything that moved. The whole nation thought it was going to be invaded.”

The feared invasion never came, and on Dec. 28 his radioman class of 72 students was sent by troopship from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor. To Dudley’s knowledge that ship was the first unarmed ship to reach Pearl Harbor after the attack, steaming in on Jan. 4, 1942.

They were met with a somber sight.

“Wrecked ships and fuel were still burning, still putting a lot of smoke in the sky and around the harbor. Debris was still being cleared, evidence of destruction was all around us, and repairs were going on around the clock,” Dudley said. “We were at war and we had been hit hard, and we just took what came day by day, and did what we were told to the best of our ability.”

Later tallies showed that 2,335 U.S. military personnel were killed in the attack, 1,143 were wounded. There were 68 civilians killed and 35 wounded. Records also indicate 64 Japanese airmen died, according to online information.

After a short roundabout experience on Oahu, 50 of the radiomen were finally assigned fleet ship positions, and 22, including Dudley, were stationed north of Pearl Harbor at the center of the island and near the community Wahiawa. There, as part of a large naval radio station, they became part of the Navy’s Combat Radio Intelligence Unit.

They were to spy on the enemy with electronic ears.

MAKE IT FASTER

Dudley and his fellow radiomen listened to long-range enemy communications sent in Morse Code, and typed out as fast as they could what they heard. The typewriters, with Japanese characters, transformed the dots and dashes into the characters. This went to other staff who translated the messages using a code the Japanese didn’t know had been broken by U.S. forces.

“There was a (navy) chief in charge, and I think he liked it when I was on duty. I didn’t grouse about it being my turn to clean the urinals; I didn’t hesitate to dive right in and shine them up as part of my duties,” Dudley said matter of factly. “You do the job you have to do to the best of your ability. Whatever it is.”

Speed and accuracy were the bywords of their work: get the information accurately and quickly from earphones to typewriter keys to paper and into the hands of code translators as fast as possible.

“Sometimes there was a bit of a slow down and I’d be thinking about how to somehow do all this faster, improve it,” Dudley said.

In fall 1942, he was sent by ship and aircraft to the embattled South Pacific island of Guadalcanal, where a long, bloody battle was grinding on, the first major land clash with Japanese forces.

From this forward location where fighting was still ongoing, Dudley and his unit again listened to Japanese combat communications sent in code.

“After getting off the DC-3 (transport aircraft) a buddy of mine who was already there, Jake Jacobson, was showing me around when a shell suddenly ripped by right above our heads and hit a palm tree a ways behind us cutting it clean in half,” Dudley said. “Right there we jumped into a culvert for cover. Well, the culvert wasn’t big and a lot of Jake’s backside wouldn’t fit. I had a difficult time backing out of the culvert. I thought I was going to die in there, but I finally made it out.

“That was topic of conversation, you can imagine, for the rest of the day.”

Occasional shelling by Japanese, he noted, lasted about seven minutes, and kept pretty much to that time frame.

He said fighting the always wet, humid, muddy conditions, along with insects including mosquitoes, sometimes seemed worse than the threat and reality of shelling.

See Monday’s Daily Record for second part of the story.

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