MVH Bangor Veteran of the Month: Walton O'Roak

Author: MVH Bangor
Posted: October 06, 2017
Category: Maine Veterans of the Month

Bangor-Walton-ORoak-1-e1507289895367.jpgWalt was born on March 11, 1922, in Sherman Mills, Maine.  Raised on a farm, he attended a one-room schoolhouse, and later graduated from Sherman High School. In 1940, he enrolled at Ricker College, but following America’s entry into WWII, he left Ricker to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

 

USS Baltimore (CA-68)

 

With the completion of basic training, Walt joined the crew of the U.S.S. Baltimore at Newport, Rhode Island, in April 1943. After traveling to her home base of Pearl Harbor, the Baltimore, a heavy cruiser, set out to make its contribution to the war in the Pacific. The ship and her crew provided fire support for many of the most intense and well-known military operations in the South Pacific. From November 1943 to June 1944, the Baltimore supported actions at the Makin Islands, Kwajalein, Truk, the Marianas, Hollandia, Wake Island, Saipan, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

 

“It seemed like we were all over the South Pacific,” Walt, who served as a fire controlman-first class, remembers. “We saw a lot, alright. There was so much shooting, so much firing. The Baltimore got hit, but we were lucky, we had very few casualties.”

In July 1944, the Baltimore returned to the U.S. where she had the honor of transporting President Franklin Roosevelt to Pearl Harbor for his historic conference with Admiral Nimitz and General McArthur. The incident made a big impression on young Walt, who enjoys telling of the pride he and his crewmates felt at having the President of the United States as a passenger on their ship.

The Baltimore, however, was not through with combat. It would go on to participate in the actions at Luzon, Formosa, Okinawa, Honshu Island, and Iwo Jima.

 

Walt believes that serving his country and being a crewmember of the U.S.S. Baltimore are among the best things that happened in his life. “She was an excellent ship with a top crew,” he said with great pride. For its outstanding service, the Baltimore was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Nine Battle Stars.

Following the Japanese surrender, Walt was discharged and returned home to Sherman Mills. In 1947, he married Gwendolyn Whitehouse and after moving several times, they settled in Island Falls, Maine.  It was there that they raised their four children— Jon, Jill, Joleen, and Jeff.

Still under reserve status, Walt was called back into the Navy during the Korean War. He served in Cuba for a little more than year before returning to his family in Island Falls.

Walt worked at numerous jobs (sometimes two at a time) to support his family. They included; fuel oil delivery man, construction worker, bookkeeper, and farm boss. In 1963, he opened his own restaurant in Island Falls, which he operated until 1970. A few years later he started a new career as a postal carrier.

Even with the demands of supporting a large family, Walt consistently made time to give back to his community. He was devoted member of the local VFW Post where he became known as “Mr. VFW.”  Walt was committed to honoring all veterans, and he was the person who envisioned and spearheaded the building of a permanent Vietnam War memorial in Island Falls—one of the first such memorials in that part of the state.  Walt also served as a town selectman, a Mason, and a member of the local Knights of Columbus.

Thank you, Walt, for your service to our nation!

Maine Veterans’ Homes is an independent nonprofit organization serving Maine’s veterans and families. For more information, contact Maine Veterans’ Homes online or give us a call at 800-278-9494. We also welcome you and your family to explore employment or volunteer opportunities with us.

Maine Veterans’ Homes…Caring For Those Who Served!