STANHOPE?- At a mere 85 years of age, Lowell Kilmer of Stanhope is one of the youngest World War II veterans around. Just 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in March of 1945, Kilmer got in on the tail end of the war, although no one knew that at the time, of course.
And why did he sign up when he was so young that his mother had to sign the enlistment papers? "Well, because I was 17, I guess," he answers with a chuckle. "Besides, the draft was on, and I would have been drafted into the army. And I wanted to be in the Marines."
So instead of a high school graduation ceremony from Farnhamville, the teenager was in training at Parris Island. "Iwo Jima was just being secured when I was in boot camp," Kilmer recalls. "Our training was for the purpose of invading Japan." "We were reminded almost daily that a landing on Japan was in our future," Kilmer relates from his Stanhope home. But of course that didn't happen because the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. On Aug. 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan. Surrender documents were signed on Sept. 2.
With the war over, Kilmer's unit - an artillery and tank battalion - was shipped to Guam, where they guarded some Japanese prisoners. Then in March of 1946 Kilmer's unit was assigned to participate in the occupation of Japan; from there, it was duty in the occupation of China for seven months.
"The purpose of us being there was to keep supply lines open," Kilmer explains. "The Communists were interested in capturing our Radio Jeeps, and that was the only time I was fired on. And it was after World War II."
As for his time in the service, Kilmer values the first part of his enlistment especially. "That's when there was tremendous camaraderie," he says. "The people I was associated with were good people. After that, there were people society didn't really want."
Kilmer met and married his wife, Doris in 1951, before he decided to enroll at Drake University on the G.I. Bill. In 1954 he earned a B.S. in marketing and business administration from Drake and took a position with Swift and Company in Chicago and then St. Louis. Several years later the couple settled in Stanhope, where the couple raised their five children. Kilmer retired from construction work.
Kilmer is pleased that he participated in an Honor Flight three years ago to see the WW II memorial in Washington, D.C., a day he calls "a tremendous experience that was much more emotional than I anticipated.
"I talked with many veterans, and I think the huge majority of them hope and pray that we never have a war again like World War II," he continues. "Hopefully the human experience carries us in another direction.
"When you're young, you don't think in those terms," Kilmer muses. "But it was a different time when I enlisted. So many from our hometowns were going in, and you did your part."