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Ashland WWII veteran celebrates 101st birthday

Courtesy photo Arnold Meads celebrated his 101st birthday Friday, May 28.

ASHLAND — In 1944, after more than two years of continuous service as a radio operator in the Pacific Theater, Arnold Meads dropped his name into a helmet, along with the other members of the U.S. Marine Corps “Forgotten Battalion,” and waited to see who would finally make the journey home.

As one of the names drawn, Meads started home for Minnesota via Hilo, Hawaii, while some of his fellow battalion members headed for the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The year of his birth, the era of Prohibition began, the last American troops returned from World War I, the 19th Amendment was passed recognizing a woman’s right to vote, and the average lifespan in the U.S. was 54 years.

Meads celebrated his 101st birthday Friday.

The Forgotten Battalion included artillerymen of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment and the 2nd 155mm Howitzer Battalion, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

The battalion participated in the battles of Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II. In one day, its members fired the first field artillery round in a U.S. offensive at Japanese snipers near Tulagi in the Solomon Islands and provided the first ever field artillery support for an amphibious landing in Marine Corps history, just over one month after they shipped out from San Diego on July 1, 1942.

After each battle, the battalion was sent to assist in other locations, adding up to nearly three years without a visit home. By the time the battalion was deactivated, its members had fired more than 56,000 artillery shots and were awarded three Presidential Unit Citations and two Navy Unit Citations, according to the Corps.

Arnold and Beverly Meads married in November 1944 when he returned from the Pacific, spending 74 years together before Beverly died Feb. 14, 2019, at the age of 95.

The couple corresponded for several years before their wedding — one letter returned for every six Beverly sent while Arnold was overseas, daughter Laurel McGinley recalled from her mother’s account.

In 1944, the families pooled ration tickets to bake a wedding cake — flat and all but sugarless. They spent some time in San Diego while Meads completed his military service, then relocated to Ashland in 1960 to plant roots. Their relationship came right from a storybook, McGinley said.

Today, Meads’ family includes four daughters, 13 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great-grandchildren.

Meads previously worked for a sawmill owned by Steve Wilson Logging Co. in Phoenix, Boise Cascade LLC in White City, Ashland Sanitary Service Recycle Center and Park View Department Store after the Phoenix mill burned.

“I remember he would always bring home refrigerator boxes and washer and dryer boxes. We had the best playhouses ever,” McGinley said.

Frequent flyers of the Ashland airport might recognize Meads as the man who rebuilt Taylorcraft airplanes and always offered fixes when other pilots encountered mechanical troubles, McGinley said.

McGinley characterizes her father as a social, resourceful and skilled “giving soul,” who readily offered help to those in need throughout his life.

Meads lived independently until age 99. He now receives support from a caregiver. Meads attributes his long years to how well he ate growing up in Minnesota, where as an adolescent, his family trapped game and sold pelts to stay afloat through the Great Depression, McGinley said. He also inherited his mother’s green thumb.

“For the longest time, he had a very large garden here in Ashland, to the point where he would give zucchinis and tomatoes and onions to neighbors,” McGinley said. “Always wanting to help neighbors came a lot from his upbringing — you had to take care of each other during the depression, so if you heard of a family that wasn’t eating very well, they would get another deer for that family or something like that.”

McGinley said her father instilled a strong sense of love and respect for the U.S. during her upbringing, which she passed on to her own children.

After enduring a subdued birthday last year, waving through glass as neighbors smiled beneath face masks, a small get-together with his daughters was Meads’ only wish for his 101st birthday celebration.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 530-598-2818 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.