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World War II vet finally gets his citizenship
Longtime Bremerton resident and World War II veteran Howard Hatfield celebrated his 92nd birthday in style last week, finally and officially obtaining the U.S. citizenship he so richly deserves and was entitled to when he turned 18.
Hatfield arrived in the United States in July 1927 when he was 8 via the SS Olympic from Fox River, Nova Scotia, Canada, with his parents, John and Florence. They applied for and received citizenship in 1934, making Howard eligible for citizenship on his 18th birthday. But Hatfield, who went on to serve in World War II, never signed the necessary paperwork to confirm his citizenship.
The oversight was finally taken care of last week.
Supervisory Immigration Services Officer Lorra Wilkinson has read the oath of citizenship hundreds of times, but last week, kneeling next to Hatfield while he sat in a chair beneath red, white and blue balloons, Wilkinson's voice broke ever so slightly and a few of the word's from the oath almost got caught up on their way out.
It was the first time Wilkinson has read the oath to a veteran and she noted that, "Mr. Hatfield is an exceptional man." Following the ceremony, Wilkinson was even more emotional as her husband, Army Sgt. Grayson Wilkinson, stood nearby in his uniform.
"Well…sorry, for me, of course, the military is always special for obvious reasons," Mrs. Wilkinson said, tearing up while nodding toward her husband.
"At U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, on the whole, we try to honor our veterans and active military members to the utmost. Being able to give the oath of citizenship to someone like Mr. Hatfield is very special and everyone in the office was very jealous. It is definitely a career highlight."
Sgt. Wilkinson, who has attended various citizenship ceremonies on post, was also moved by the ceremony, the first one that has involved a civilian – a veteran to boot.
"It was pretty cool," Sgt. Wilkinson said. "He already did four years and did an African campaign and a European campaign during the war. So, I just said, 'Whoa, this guy has definitely seen some serious stuff.' "
Hatfield suffers from Alzheimer's and lives in an adult family home with five other residents and care providers in East Bremerton. But Hatfield had several cogent moments while signing paperwork and swearing his allegiance to the United States that drew hearty responses from those in attendance.
"Wow, Oh, Boy. That's very good isn't it?" he said after filling out one signature.
And after Wilkinson read the oath and he affirmed it, Hatfield had this to say: "It ain't Howard the Coward anymore, is it?"
No, sir, Wilkinson told him, adding that, "You have already done more than what is asked of you."
Hatfield enlisted in the Army on the first day of May 1942. He served his country throughout the war, mustering out in January 1946. After his service, Hatfield returned to the job he’d performed briefly at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the supply department, providing support for waterfront journeymen who keep the nation’s ships afloat. Following retirement in 1977, he devoted himself to an impressive collection of model trains, and doted on his wife Glenise, who passed away in 2003 – a day before their 53rd anniversary. The couple had no children.
Hatfield entered care in 2007 and his legal guardian became Sharon Hackett. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the ceremony due to an illness. It was Hackett who got the ball rolling on Hatfield's citizenship when she attempted to secure Medicare benefits for him and learned that he wasn't officially a U.S. citizen. Hackett's assistant, Nancy Hough, was on-hand for the ceremony to assist Hatfield.
"Sharon went to work for seven months trying to get this to happen," Hough said.