Left: WWII veteran PFC Eugene “Gene” DeMar. Right: Gene in this year’s Memorial Day parade. (Photos from Nancy Olszewski)

Celebrating A Local Veteran

PFC Eugene “Gene” DeMar turned 100 this year

With Veterans Day on Saturday, Nov. 11, the Port Washington News reached out to local WWII veteran PFC Eugene “Gene” DeMar to learn about his time in the service and wish him a happy 100th birthday.

DeMar is a lifelong resident of Port Washington. PFC DeMar served in the U.S. Army Air Corp HQ Co., 565th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion from September 1943 to February 1946, and was stationed in New Guinea, the Philippines, and finally Japan after their surrender in 1945.

In 1943, DeMar was drafted into WWII. “I wanted to go serve my country, but I was drafted,” said DeMar. “They give you choices when you’re drafted of what division you would like to be in, and I wanted the Army Air Force and got into the Army Air Corps.”

As part of the 565th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion, DeMar and the other soldiers worked with Army Air Corps Fighter Control Squadrons primarily to direct fighters and fighter-bombers to their targets.

“We had people going out in the jungles and away from our headquarters and we were the air warning division,” said DeMar. “We were protecting maybe 20 miles away from it. And when the planes come in, we would pick them up, and we would alert headquarters.”

DeMar met the others stationed in New Guinea and made some good friends; some of them were even from New York.

While stationed in New Guinea, DeMar caught malaria from the mosquitos.

“The mosquitos were a nuisance,” said DeMar. “We slept in tents, and at night, you’d have a net over your cot to sleep because the mosquitos will eat you up.”

Unfortunately, “quite a few” people got malaria while serving in New Guinea, said DeMar. “It wasn’t something you got sent home for. The doctors were able to treat you, and you’d get better,” he said.

DeMar was sick for about a month with malaria. Luckily, he was given pills to take every day, but it turned his skin a bit yellow. “Every day, they made sure you took the pill when you went to the mess hall,” he said.

“I’m lucky I wasn’t hurt. Malaria was the only thing I had,” said DeMar.

When the war was over, DeMar was in Luzon, Manila, an island in the Philippines.
“We got on a ship to Osaka, Japan, and when we got off, we went up the coast to Tokyo and from there I waited for a ship to get on and came home,” said DeMar.

When they got to Tokyo, DeMar was surprised that the people living Tokyo were so nice to them while they stayed in the port waiting for the boat.

“The people were once our enemies but they became our friends,” he said. “They were really nice people. We expected the worst, but we got the best. And they were happy that the war was over; everybody was.”

DeMar remembers finally getting on the boat to come home and pulling out of the harbor in Tokyo, and seeing the beautiful mountains in Yokohama. The boat ride home took 31 days.

When DeMar got home, he reunited with his best friend, Jean Ann Kulakoski, from Roslyn.

“Jean wrote to me while I was away,” said DeMar. “She was still going to school. She graduated from Roslyn High when I was in the service.”

DeMar and Jean Ann got married when he returned home and they raised a beautiful family in Port Washington. The two have two sons and a daughter. Their family has grown, now having five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

While living in Port Washington, DeMar owned and operated Plaza Bar and Grill on Haven Avenue. “My father handed the bar over to me when he moved to Florida. He had a bar there, so I had one here and he had one there,” said DeMar.

DeMar joined the Port Washington Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1819 a few weeks after he returned home from the war. “I’ve been a member all these years and I was friends with a lot of guys I served with. Most of those guys are gone now, but it’s an experience with the new guys.”

Unfortunately, Jean Ann passed away in September of 2019.

“She was a fine young lady. I lost my best friend,” DeMar said when speaking of his wife. Luckily, DeMar’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live close to him now, some still living in Port Washington and Roslyn.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, DeMar turned 100 years old. DeMar celebrated this milestone surrounded by friends and family. DeMar and his wife have three children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“[My family] all live pretty close to me,” said DeMar. “I’m very lucky.”

DeMar has been participating in Port’s Annual Veterans Day Parade and Tribute for many years. This year’s parade and tribute will be held on Saturday, Nov. 11.

The vehicle parade will follow the route north on Port Washington Boulevard and west on Main Street, finishing at the Sousa Band Shell, where the Veterans Day Remembrance will be held at 11:00 a.m.

Members of the American Legion and the VFW Post 1819 will lead the program with welcoming addresses, song, gun salute, a poem delivered by John Chaulker, and recognition of those Veterans in attendance.

The community is invited to show support along the parade route, and attend the tribute.

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