PRINCETON — Voters are being given the option of using absentee ballots while the coronavirus (COVID-19) is compelling many of them to stay at home, but using alternatives to polling places is a common practice for members of the military when duty takes them overseas and far from home.
World War II veteran Jake Hatcher, 102, of Princeton was a young man who, like many of his fellow sailors, wasn’t particularly interested in politics when the war took him to the Pacific Ocean. He wanted to see the world when he joined the Navy before the United State entered the war. He later served on destroyers that bombarded Iwo Jima and other Japanese-held islands. Combat duty also took him to the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, and later the ship he was serving on was hit by a kamikaze suicide plane near Okinawa. That attack occurred on April 10, 1945, the same day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.
Despite all the travel and combat, sailors could still exercise their right to vote. They just couldn’t go home to do it.
“Yes, you could vote absentee,” Hatcher recalled. “You almost had to vote absentee. In the Navy, you’re never in port long enough to vote. We all liked Roosevelt...probably if we did vote, we voted for him. When you’re young, you’re not thinking too much about politics.”
Hatcher couldn’t recall actually voting while World War II was underway. He stayed in the Navy and later served during the Korean War. He was a commander on the USS Orleck when the ship bombarded the North Korean coast on July 14 and 15, 1952, and destroyed an enemy supply train. Americans serving their country could vote during that war, too.
When June 9 primary election arrives, Hatcher plans to vote at home.
“Yes, I’d like to vote the absentee ballot,” he said. “I think that would be ideal for a veteran. A lot of them aren’t able to get to the polls. I’m 102, and I’ve signed up to go with the absentee.”
Another local veteran, Jerry Midkiff with the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 628, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1984. His service took him to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Germany and England. Like other people serving their country, he could exercise his right to vote while far from home.
“You had to get an absentee ballot,” he recalled. “Just like now, they have to get the ballot ahead of time. I voted a lot of West Virginia absentee ballots.”
Anyone who wanted to vote could go to a base’s legal office and request an application for an absentee ballot. The applications were mailed back to the United States, and the ballots would be mailed back.
“It would go back to the state and the state would send it directly to your mailbox,” Midkiff said.
Midkiff said he plans to use a polling place on June 9 and vote in person because he has concerns about fraud, adding that he had read about absentee ballots being found uncounted at a Wisconsin post office.
Another veteran of the Vietnam War, 69-year-old Jeremiah Murphy, said he was in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
“I never got to vote while I was in the military,” he recalled. “I was injured in October (1970) during the time the election was taking place. I was in hospitals and that kind of thing.”
Even though Murphy was unable to vote in 1970, he knew that an option was available. Newspapers like the Army Times helped to give him some idea what was happening back home.
“It was like when there was payroll,” he said. “They would have us all go down to a central location, and they would let people vote and that sort of thing.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org