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VFW Narrows Bridge honors centenarian

Professional fisherman used skills to serve country

Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Ned M. Vukovich celebrated his 100th birthday at VFW Post #10018 ??" VFW Narrows Bridge ??" Saturday, July 15. Photo credit: Michael Koidahl

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Leaving us at the rate of nearly 400 per day, and with fewer than a half million remaining, our World War II veterans are perhaps this country's most rapidly disappearing national treasure. So it was fitting for VFW Post #10018 in Ruston to pull out all the stops when one of their own WWII vets, Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Ned M. Vukovich, marked his 100th birthday last Saturday afternoon.

This is a story of patriotism and service. It's also the story of a community - of a lumbering and fishing town that grew into a flourishing city all because of men like Vukovich.

The son of Yugoslavian immigrants, Marko and Frances Vukovich, Ned Vukovich was born at St. Joseph's hospital in Tacoma July 15, 1917. His family lived in a small house up the hill from the Tacoma waterfront. They didn't have much - no electricity, no running water. They would salvage the butt ends from the lumber mill for wood to heat their home and cook their food. The Depression forced Vukovich to quit school after the ninth grade to help support his family, and at the age of 16, he became a professional fisherman, a career he continued to pursue until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Vukovich originally planned to enlist in the Navy but was persuaded to join the Coast Guard when he learned that they were looking for men with professional fishing experience. For the remainder of the war, Vukovich would serve his country patrolling the waters off Unimak and Pribilof islands in Alaska aboard armed fishing boats designed to appear harmless to any Japanese ships or planes patrolling the North Pacific.

His daughter, Diane Franks, says that while her father was in the Coast Guard, "He met his wife, Lauretta, at a shipyard cafeteria in 1942. They were married April 15, 1944, at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Fife." Franks adds,  "They were married for sixty-nine years, ten months, before her passing February 1, 2014."

After the war, Vukovich worked construction for Hooker Chemical before being hired as a surveyor by the city of Tacoma. Starting out as a chainman and then a transitman, Vukovich went to night school to complete his GED so that he could become a crew chief. He was ultimately promoted to party chief before his retirement from the city in April 1977.

While it's true that Vukovich - who in addition to his daughter, Diane, has a son, Michael, as well as two grandchildren and five great grandsons - just celebrated his 100th birthday, it would appear that he has no intention of "acting his age" any time soon. He still lives in the family home, still does his own cooking and housekeeping, still drives his 1996 Lincoln Town Car to the pharmacy and the doctor's office. He reads the paper and watches the news every day and takes Spanish lessons once a week because he's always wanted to learn Spanish. He attends Holy Cross Catholic Church regularly, where he is the oldest parishioner, and is still active as the oldest member of Tacoma Croatian Lodge #246.

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