WINSTON — Three days after his 100th birthday party, World War II veteran Roy Vanderhoff drove to Wellspring Bible Fellowship in Roseburg to inspect and repair electronics for the church’s yard sale.
It’s the sort of thing Vanderhoff loves to do. In his spare time, he can often be found tinkering with his electric trains or operating a ham radio.
The Lord, Vanderhoff said, has been good to him. At this point in his life, he has trouble deciding which of his many experiences were the best ones.
“That is hard to tell. There’s been a lot of them,” he said.
He remembers them clearly.
On Wednesday, he cuddled a little white terrier called Casey as he spoke about his military experience, his family and his work.
After World War II broke out, Vanderhoff tried to enlist in the Navy, but they rejected him for wearing glasses. He didn’t volunteer for the Army, though. He waited for them to call him.
And call him they did. He was drafted into the Army Medical Corps in January 1942 and attached to the 12th Air Force.
After his training was completed, he was shipped to North Africa. On his way to that deployment, he recalled the train from San Bernadino traveled 90 mph across the Great Plains, stopping in Kansas City for a half hour of calisthenics and arriving in Fort Dix, New Jersey four hours late. Within a half hour of arriving at Fort Dix, he was on a plane to Casablanca, where he would be stationed for a year and a half.
In all, he would spend three years, eight months and four days in the service without any furlough.
He never served in combat, but while stationed in Casablanca and in Italy he helped salvage gliders, repair radios and maintain planes that could carry gasoline to the troops on the front lines.
“It’s a different life. It’s hard to describe. You’re under supervision of people up above that tell you what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it,” he said. “I wouldn’t take a lot for the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
His unit received a Meritorious Service Award, which his family had framed for his birthday.
Though he was trained as an X-ray technician, that’s a skill he never got to use during the war. Once he was overseas his designation was changed to sanitation technician, he said.
“I had to see to it we had a latrine trench to use for a bathroom. I didn’t have to dig ’em, I had to see that they were dug,” he said.
He had grown up in Iowa and Minnesota. Four months after he returned home from the war, he married Donna Kruger, a girl with whom he had ridden the school bus for years.
What he liked about her, he summed up in one word: “Everything.”
It was a marriage that would last almost 68 years, until her death in 2013, and produce five children, four of whom are still living.
Daughters Rosie Dean and Pam Bingel said they most remember their dad teaching them to swim, fixing things and coming home from the machine shop where he worked with little pieces of metal in his shoes.
“He was always there for us, always level headed, always tried to help us. He’s just a good guy,” Bingel said.
Vanderhoff obtained his GED and attended college in Iowa, after which he taught math and science to seventh and eighth graders for five years. But he said he didn’t like the job because the kids were ornery and wouldn’t pay attention in class.
So he quit that profession and started working in a machine shop instead.
He moved to California in 1963, where he worked in a machine shop building airplane parts. In 1970 he was laid off from that job and moved to Douglas County. He helped repair logging equipment in Camas Valley and built logging yarders at a now-defunct company called EDCO in Glide.
“It was alright. It’s like anything else. It has its ups and downs,” he said. “All of it was better than the teaching.”
He thought about becoming a pilot when he was younger but said he scrapped that plan after he and his wife attended an air show in which a pilot crashed his plane and died. He’s remained interested in flying though. Last year, he received a ride in a biplane thanks to Ageless Aviation Dreams, a program that obtains rides for veterans.
Vanderhoff has been retired now for almost 40 years. He has faced some health challenges, surviving four heart attacks and lymphoma. He gets around well, though he leans on a walker to aid his balance.
“If I let go, I just go plunk, and I’ve got the scars to prove it,” he said.
When asked what his secret is to thriving a century after his birth, Vanderhoff said, “Take life as it comes one day at a time. A lot of people have asked me that, and that’s my pat answer.”