Local World War II Veteran Turns 90 on D-Day

Posted at 7:11 PM, Jun 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-06 19:38:28-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (June 6, 2014) — George Gaastra, 90, is living history.

“If I may say this very humbly, today, I would say D-Day… I turned 90 today,” Gaastra said.

After 70 years, the World War II veteran still has his belongings and keepsakes from the war.
He remembers the day it all began. He left Grand Rapids and arrived at Fort Custer near Battle Creek.

“I went in when I was 18 years old. I was drafted. I went in February 4, (19)43,” he recalled.

After basic traning, Gaastra traveled to islands all over the Pacific Ocean. He eventually sailed to New Caledonia.
That’s where he bumped into his brother Otto.

“And all at once he turned around and said, ‘I can’t believe, this is my little kid brother,'” he said.

Three Gaastra brothers served in World War II at the same time and a fourth brother served as well.

Gaastra served as a scout. What he recalls first-hand, most people today can only find in history books.

“Then MacArthur came to our area and complimented us on a job well done, ya know,” Gaastra recalled.

He and his battalion fought enemies in the Philippines.

“They all went up in the hills. That’s a long story too, how they hid themselves up in the coconut trees. They used to have snipers,” Gaastra said.

After a couple of months, he got the news.

“They dropped a big bomb on Japan,” Gaastra said.

It was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

“And of cousre that was a big relief,” he said.

His service ended. He returned unceremoniously to Grand Rapids.

Gaastra said, “I had for a long time (kept in touch with other veterans). I had a couple, 2 or 3 of them. But they’re gone. They died.”

He’s one of few people able to share such an experience and a thank you note signed by President Harry Truman.

FOX 17 asked Gaastra if he had any fear going into the war and while he served.

“No, I had no qualms about being upset with going. I had no qualms about being scared or anything. No, well, there was a few times that we were bombed and everything like that. You get a little shaky, ya know, you want to live. Everybody wants to live. But I survived it. The good Lord watched over me,” he said.