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Still standing tall

Anthony “Tony” Kanclier is the definition of grit. At 100 years old, he remains fit, friendly, feisty and frank.

“I’ve lived here 70 years, and this is the first time I get interviewed?” quipped Kanclier.

While his limited mobility may provide some challenges, Kanclier will join other local veterans Friday in Medford's annual Veterans Day parade. It starts at 11 a.m. at Hawthorne Park.

As a former U.S. Marine Corps platoon sergeant and recipient of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Kanclier continues to demonstrate the strength of character and vitality that helped him survive World War II.

Asked about his advice for living a good life, Kanclier replied, “Tell the truth all the time — don’t skimp around that.”

For those in the service, he added, “Do as you’re told!”

Other bits of advice are, “Respect people. Be courteous all the time. That is what I have learned. It makes a difference.”

A resident of Ashland since the mid-1940s, Kanclier worked for many years as a carpenter and can still appreciate viewing the houses he helped construct, including the one he still lives in, as well as several local schools: Briscoe, Lincoln and Walker.

But carpentry came after his life in the Marines, and the day he earned his Purple Heart.

Originally from St. Clairsville, Ohio, Kanclier had finished one tour of duty with the Marines from 1937 to 1941 when World War II broke out. Kanclier had just started work at U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

“I thought to myself, what am I doing here?” said Kanclier. “So I volunteered, again.”

His second tour brought him to the decks of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington and the South Pacific.

Just off the island of Kwajalein, Kanclier was serving as a gun captain on the 20-millimeter gun group, positioned near the stern.

“The torpedo came at midnight. The Japanese fighter pilots were dropping flares. The torpedo jammed the rudder and knocked the screw off. Twenty-five guys were killed that night, rolled up in metal when we were hit,” Kanclier recalled.

Kanclier’s leg was badly broken. He recalled dragging his useless leg as a medic pulled him by his underarms to safety. He counted himself among the lucky ones.

He recalled the huge vessel going in circles that night while he received battlefield care. The ship would eventually limp back to Pearl Harbor and then Bremerton, Washington, for repairs.

Kanclier’s leg took more than a year and a half to heal, and he carries pain from that injury to this day, but there was one benefit: Kanclier met and married the nurse who cared for him. Kanclier and his wife, Ethelmae, lived in Ashland for most of their married life.

“I recall Ethelmae helping me to wheelbarrow gravel into the lot next door so we could build that house,” noted Kanclier, who built two neighboring houses in the Bellview Road area. “It was all cow pastures around us then, and we used to gather white oak from the hills here to heat the house.”

The physical strength that developed during a life of self-sufficiency is still evident today in Kanclier’s daily routine. He grew 18 tomato plants this year and is still active in teaching neighbors how to can vegetables. He routinely shares visits with neighbors and keeps his home in ship-shape order.

A neighborhood birthday party was held to honor Kanclier’s 100th birthday on Aug. 1. Nearly 40 well-wishers attended. An oversized birthday card hangs in Kanclier’s home sporting signatures from dozens of fans.

That event, however, paled in comparison to the birthday bash thrown at Seven Feathers Casino — one of Kanclier’s favorite recreation spots. A crowd of hundreds of friends, family and fellow playmates at the casino enjoyed a gigantic party in Kanclier’s honor.

Using skills he developed as a drill sergeant, Kanclier’s daily routine runs like clockwork with the help of the Volunteer Caregiver Support Program, visitors from Veterans Affairs, and his regular home health assistants.

On the day he was interviewed, neighbor and fellow Purple Heart recipient Douglas Terrel and his wife, Barbara, dropped in for a visit. Terrel will join Kanclier in Friday’s parade in Medford.

“There is an amazing story about Tony’s Purple Heart,” said Barbara Terrel. “He keeps it in a safe, and the safe was stolen a while back. After the theft, a few weeks later, the medal arrived back in the mail.”

It seems that even the thief was able to recognize Kanclier’s sacrifice. For Kanclier, knowing others recognize his sacrifice helps mend many of the wounds he endured.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Raefield at jraefieldg@gmail.com.

Anthony Kanclier back in the day. Courtesy photo
100-year-old veteran Anthony “Tony” Kanclier displays the Purple Heart he received for being wounded in WWII. Photo by Julie Raefield