May 25, 2018

For Lawrence, a jovial nonagenarian and a proud veteran of the Merchant Marines, life has taught him to appreciate what you have, and to approach every day with love, humility and forgiveness. He radiates resilience and gratitude; qualities he has embraced since his first trip overseas as a Merchant Marine at the ripe age of 16.

“My Dad signed me up for the Merchant Marines. I went down to the Union Hall. They needed men. A lot of the ships in the South Pacific got sunk,” he explained.

Lawrence received his first tour-of-duty with the Merchant Marines in June of 1944. This was the same month and year allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied beaches along the coast of Normandy, France. For historians, these events signaled the waning months of World War II. For Lawrence, it marked the beginning of a life of service.

Despite the risk of going to war at such a young age (in the summer between his Junior and Senior year of high school), he never questioned his commitment to serve his country. “I wanted to be there. I just wanted to be there. It’s hard to explain. We were at War. That was the thing to do. My brother went to serve his country when he was 17. So did my cousin Johnny. I saw things a 16-year-old shouldn’t see, but I knew I had to go.”

His journey began at the Port of San Francisco. “First, we sailed up to Longview, WA, in the straits up there. We loaded the ship with trucks, deck cargo, a whole lot of stuff. Then we headed out to the South Pacific,” he recalled. “It was a 5-day trip to Longview and another week and a half to Guam and the Mariana Islands.”

He started as a messman on a C2 boat in the South Pacific, serving food to the sailors at the very bottom of the ship. Then he moved up to the Pantry Mess, a few floors up, where he prepared meals for the officers. “They’d send the food up the elevator and I’d get it ready for them to eat. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, corned beef.”

Lawrence speaks with unequivocal pride about being a veteran and being an American, harkening back to a golden age in our country. "What’s important for people to know is that we were a mixed race of men. We had Latinos, Irish, everyone. I never considered myself anything but an American." This Memorial Day, and every day, we are proud to serve Lawrence and many of the 21.8 million veterans in America who are seniors. It is our honor to give back to a generation who has given so much to this country. 

Visit mowsf.org/annual-report to find out more about Lawrence and other seniors served by Meals on Wheels San Francisco.

Photo Credit: Maren Caruso