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Veterans of Foreign Wars Tower Post Chaplain Joseph McCarthy places a flag on the grave of Sgt. 1st Class Robert Williams at the Grafenwöhr town cemetery.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Tower Post Chaplain Joseph McCarthy places a flag on the grave of Sgt. 1st Class Robert Williams at the Grafenwöhr town cemetery. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — It’s been 60 years since Joseph McCarthy finished fighting the Axis powers and 45 since he’s been home.

But the World War II veteran is still fighting for his brothers in arms. Next week the 80-year-old former soldier and sailor will stand for re-election as chaplain of his local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post — a position he has fulfilled with great dedication.

McCarthy served on the USS Indianapolis in World War II. He was ashore in the Philippines when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo and went down, becoming the last capital ship sunk in the war. He joined the Army in 1950, fighting in the Korean War with the 3rd Infantry Division before moving to Grafenwöhr in 1960.

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native married a local girl and has lived here ever since, apart from a brief trip back to the U.S. to retire in 1965.

When he helped found the VFW’s Tower Post, number 10692, in 1983 he had already been living in Grafenwöhr for 23 years. Every week since then he has visited the graves of 11 U.S. soldiers, mostly Vietnam and Korean War veterans, buried in the town cemetery alongside their German wives, and German soldiers the U.S. once fought.

“On Armistice day and Memorial Day I put a U.S. flag and a poppy on each grave. I’m probably the only one who knows where all the American graves are,” said McCarthy.

On Friday morning during a visit to the cemetery he replaced a flag on the grave of his former best friend, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Williams, who died in 1993 at age 62.

“He was in the Marines in Korea and got wounded, and he was rescued by some civilians who dropped him off with a U.S. unit,” he said.

McCarthy picked up a piece of litter from the nearby grave of Capt. Earlin Wesley, who died in 1979, at age 56. The former recreation program manager, who ran the Rod and Gun Club, bowling alley and golf course at Grafenwöhr, served with McCarthy in Korea with the 3rd ID and was best man at his wedding, McCarthy said.

The Grafenwöhr VFW chaplain’s other duties include visiting sick soldiers at local hospitals, attending Memorial Day and Armistice Day services on-post, and attending the German veterans’ ceremony at their war memorial next to the local Rathaus.

“[German World War II veterans] are decreasing in very large numbers nowadays. A lot of them are old and don’t come out anymore to the ceremonies,” he said.

The Tower Post VFW meets the second Tuesday of each month at its headquarters in what was once the town of Grafenwöhr’s movie theater.

Although the post has about 300 members including many soldiers who recently returned from Iraq, only about 20 turn up at meetings, McCarthy said.

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