The North Thurston Kiwanis Club Turn Out to Celebrate the Birthday of 100-Year-Old WWII Veteran Harvey Drahos

Karen Schoessel presents Harvey Drahos with the US Flag flown in his name at the U.S. Capitol.
Karen Schoessel presents Harvey Drahos with the US Flag flown in his name at the U.S. Capitol. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser.

Director Frank Capra famously posited in his classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” that, “No man is a failure who has friends.” If that is indeed true – and we think it is –  then Olympian Harvey Drahos is one of the most successful people to ever have walked a city street or a country pathway.

Harvey Drahos on a couch hugging his black dog
Harvey Drahos and his loyal friend Walter. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser

The North Thurston Kiwanis Club turned out in full force on Wednesday, January 11 at the Fire Creek Grill and Ale House in Olympia, to honor one of their own, Harvey Drahos for his 100th Birthday. It was a modest gathering befitting a gentleman who comes from a particular time and place where modesty, service and a can-do attitude defined what journalist Tom Brokaw coined as “The Greatest Generation.”

Harvey took the day’s celebration in good stride as event organizer and good friend Karen Schoessel read a special poem she had written just for the occasion, shortly before presenting him with a United States Flag that had been flown in his name over the U.S. Capitol. One by one his fellow Kiwanis – whom he’s worked alongside for 53 years –  filed up in front of the crowd of well-wishers in an attempt to express just what it meant to them to have a man like Harvey  so profoundly touch their own lives. As they spoke about warm memories and great laughs that they’ve shared with him, the Man of the Hour smiled wistfully, his eyes watering up. In the back of the restaurant where everyone had congregated, a sleek television set proudly flashed images of a life well lived by Harvey over the course of the last century. Oh, and what a century it’s been.

Harvey Drahos Reflects on 100 Years

The broad outlines of Harvey’s story reads like a lot of others of his era. It’s when you start to look closer at the details of that panorama that it dawns upon you just how extraordinary a life it’s been. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 5, 1923, he was witness to the two defining moments of his generation, the Great Depression when he was just 6, and America’s entry into the second World War when he was 18. That first crisis forced an entire world full of young people such as Harvey to grow up fast and served the dual purpose of instilling in him and others the resolve to never take anything for granted.

old photo of Harvey Drahos and his family outside a building
Harvey Drahos (far right) and family. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser

The fires of World War II forged within him the pride of country and the desire to fight for and protect that which was good and right. By 1943 Harvey, living in Los Angeles, was called up for service in the Army.  “Life is a journey,” he reflected last Wednesday above the din of well-wishers and with the refrains of the tune “Happy Birthday to You” – a song that’s only a mere 22-years older than Harvey Drahos himself – still hanging in the celebratory air. “It has a lot of challenges. It has a lot of ups and downs.”

Where that journey fatefully did lead him was the 96th Infantry Division and the Invasion of Okinawa, Japan and Harvey’s  life would never be the same again.

The invasion of Okinawa, codenamed “Operation Iceberg,” was no less than the single largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater during WWII and it involved both the United States Marine Corps and the Army working hand-in-hand against the Imperial Japanese Army. The objective: To secure the island, which stood defiantly as the last remaining barrier between the United States and Japan. The stakes were high for both countries in a bloody battle that ran from April 1 through June 22, 1945.

22-year old Harvey Drahos (front and center in tee-shirt) flanked by his fellow infantrymen on Okinawa.
22-year old Harvey Drahos (front and center in tee-shirt) flanked by his fellow infantrymen on Okinawa. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser

Harvey Drahos was only 22 when he first set foot on Okinawa alongside his fellow soldiers of the 96th Infantry Division. “When we were assigned to make that invasion, we didn’t know where we were going,” he recalled about that pivotal and ultimately tide-turning invasion. By the time it was over the battle had claimed the lives of 7,294 soldiers in his division. Harvey himself was wounded and given Last Rites before he rallied and pulled through.

Recalling the day he was wounded on Okinawa all of these years later, Harvey still gets emotional. “What bothered me was not that I was going to die, but that my mother would learn of my death through a telegram,” he shared.

The Next Chapter for Harvey Drahos

Discharged from the service in 1946, Harvey has gone on to have more than earned all of the many years and many miles he’s lived since. He’s been many things during the course of his 100 years: a distinguished and decorated military man, a motorcycle police officer working the Hollywood beat, a trusted chiropractor, a proud father and, finally, a valuable and loved member of the Olympia community.

“Friends and family. That’s what matters the most when you boil it all down,” Harvey ruminated as the festivities in his honor began to wind down. Already it was getting late in the day and the sun, which had made an appearance seemingly for just this occasion, had vanished behind dark clouds. No matter, Harvey Drahos’ eyes were already alight and fixed on the horizon, all set and ready for the next chapter in his wonderful life.

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