World War Two Veteran Still Standing
At this year’s Seekonk Veterans’ Day ceremony, Dave Humphrey was recognized by town and state officials for his military service.
Humphrey, 94, is one of the few remaining veterans of World War Two. There were 16.1 million members of the United States Armed Forces during the war. There were 291,557 battle deaths, 113,842 other deaths in service (non-theater), and 670,846 non-mortal woundings. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, around 389,292 American veterans from the war were estimated to still be alive in September 2019.
Humphrey was drafted into the United States Army when he was only 18 years old. He took his basic training at Camp Crawford in South Carolina. “I tried to enlist but they wouldn’t take me,” Humphrey said. “They said I was too immature. I looked like I was 10 years old. I wanted to join the Air Force, I wanted to be a tail-gunner.”
Humphrey was sent to Italy, where he served in the 15th Infantry, Third Division Army. “18, 19 years old, you don’t know what’s going on,” Humphrey explained. “You do what you’re told to do.”
Humphrey was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in battle in France. “We were heading up the Mussolini canal and there was machine gun fire on us. One of the bullets put a crease in my helmet. I got a piece of shrapnel through my arm,” Humphrey recalled. “When I got hit, the guy standing next to me had his face blown off.
While he was in Germany, Humphrey saw the liberation of one of the concentration camps at the end of the war. The prisoners were emaciated from hunger and suffering from various illnesses. It was something he would never forget.
When Humphrey returned home after the war, he was hired as a truck driver for a paper company in town. Humphrey and his late wife, Lillian, raised four children. Humphrey also became a champion racer at Seekonk Speedway, where he competed for several years. “The way he drove a race car, he had nerves of steel,” said Doreen Taylor, Humphrey’s niece as well as a former member of the board of selectmen. “If somebody was missing a driver, they would ask him to get in it. Cars that wouldn’t perform with other drivers seemed to work out just fine with him. You put him in a race car, any kind of race car, and it was lights out all the time. No fear.”
“I drove everything,” Humphrey noted. “Midgets, spread cars, stock cars, three quarter midgets. It was just something I liked, that’s all. When I got out of the service, Seekonk Speedway was opening. I saw those guys (racing) and said ‘that’s what I want to do.’”
Humphrey gained national recognition when he started racing midget cars. He won his last midget race in 1986 at the age of 61. In total, he won 72 Northeastern Midget Association feature events, and six NEMA driving championships.
In 2016, Humphrey was inducted into the Seekonk Speedway’s Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the NEMA Hall of Fame. Humphrey attends the organization’s annual banquet, where he is treated like royalty. “The kids look up to him,” Taylor said. “His records are unbelievable.”
Humphrey also became friends with legendary racer Mario Andretti. “I knew him when he was driving stock cars,” Humphrey remembered. “He used to come over and ask if he could sit in my car.”
Humphrey wasn’t forthcoming about his wartime experiences until construction began on the town’s veteran memorial in 2015. “Never knew he was wounded, never talked about it,” Taylor said, adding Humphrey’s brothers and a cousin also served in the armed forces. “I used to be afraid of him. He was just so quiet.”
So what in life is most important to Humphrey?
“I go to bed, I wake up in the morning,” Humphrey replied.
Taylor laughs and notes her uncle Dave has “dry humor.”
Explaining why he remained in Seekonk for so many years, Humphrey states it plainly: “It’s just home to me.”