A century of stories

119

WWII Vet reminisces

Carl Pollard of Salem served in the Navy Air Force during World War II. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Carl Pollard of Salem served in the Navy Air Force during World War II. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
In two weeks, Carl Pollard will turn 90 years old. Though he doesn’t look a day over 70, he has collected nearly a century’s worth of stories.

Pollard has always stayed busy, hopping from hobby to hobby. When he was just a boy, growing up in Montvale, Va., he was a member of the Boy Scouts. He still has scars on his shoulders from where he and his brother carried two dozen American chestnut trees up Harvey’s Knob and the Peaks of Otter in ’41 to earn his merit badge. He recently revisited the Peaks, and was happy to find one of the trees he planted is still there, and that others have been spread across the mountain.

A chestnut tree Pollard planted on the Peaks of Otter in 1941.
A chestnut tree Pollard planted on the Peaks of Otter in 1941.

In his lifetime, he has held many titles—father, grandfather, great-grandfather— and World War II Veteran.

Pollard has lived in Salem for years, ever since returning from World War II, and has two sons and two daughters. Now, he lives on his own, and stays busy tending to the honeybees in his backyard. He has travelled the world, and has colorful pieces of art from several continents lining his walls. He is a woodworker and a handyman, with the ability to build nearly anything he sets his mind to.

After graduating from Montvale High School in ‘44, Pollard joined the Navy Air Force when he was just 17 years old, which his father had to sign for, and he said some of his Boy Scout skills came in handy.

“One merit badge I used when I was in service was Morse code,” Pollard said. “I made Third Class Petty Officer in three months. I earned it.”

Pollard has two brothers, both of whom served in the Army Air Force, and like him, soloed when they were only 17 years old. Pollard was an aviation machinist and engineer for the Navy Air Force.

A plane, similar to the PBY he landed on Philippines with.
A plane, similar to the PBY he landed on Philippines with.

He has an album documenting his time in the Philippines, where he spent a great deal of his time, and survived on bananas and coconuts. However, he said most of his pictures were confiscated when he returned to the United States.

“When we got to California, they took all of them except the negatives I had had hidden in my clothes,” Pollard said.

Some of the photos in his collection are light hearted, such as the photo of him trying to climb a coconut tree, but not making it far off of the ground. However, others are more somber.

“Those are prisoners with chains on that got away from the Japanese,” Pollard said quietely, pointing to a photo.

“The coconut would fall in the night, and you would think it was a bomb going off,” he said. “I don’t know how close you can get to hell…”

When he got back, he said there were no jobs available. He worked for a while at Burlington Mills making women’s clothing, then worked at General Electric, before landing a job building waiting room furniture for LewisGale medical clinics.

“I started building furniture when I got out of service,” Pollard said. “I just had to have some trade. I also did electronics, and I worked at a TV shop part time.”

He also spent two and a half years at a University of Virginia electronics extension program.

He has outlived many of his comrades, but a chance encounter at the Salem VA Medical Center with a man he only knows as Captain Wilson led him to reminisce on his days in the service.

“I asked this guy, what service are you in? He said Navy Air,” Pollard said, through tears. “It knocked me off of my feet. He’s the only one I’ve seen since I’ve been back.”

He doesn’t like to dwell on the past, but certain things still keep him up at night.

“I keep thinking about one of the boy who was in camp with us who said he ate his boots,” Pollard said. “There was a big room full or food from the Red Cross, but they wouldn’t let them have it.”

But for the most part, these days, he is happy, and though he has had two knee replacements and a hip replacement, he isn’t slowing down. Soon, he will travel to Florida to celebrate his birthday with family, just as he does every year.