After showing off a few tap-dancing moves, Donald Wischmann (left) gets a little teasing from World War II veteran Larry Negrette, who was celebrating his 101st birthday at the Everett VFW Post on Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

After showing off a few tap-dancing moves, Donald Wischmann (left) gets a little teasing from World War II veteran Larry Negrette, who was celebrating his 101st birthday at the Everett VFW Post on Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

At 101, he talks of good life, keeps B-17 stories to himself

It was a surprise birthday party at a VFW post for Larry Negrette, a World War II veteran from Marysville.

They served in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. In Everett Tuesday, military veterans paid their respects and sang “Happy Birthday” to a gentleman who served generations ago. Lorenzo “Larry” Negrette turned 101 Tuesday. Small in stature with a big personality and a zest for life, the World War II veteran from Marysville spent his birthday as a guest of honor at Everett’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Old Guard Post 2100. In a quiet chat after blowing out the three 1-0-1 candles on his cake, Negrette didn’t share much about his time as a gunner on a B-17 over Europe. He served in Europe in 1942 and 1943 with the U.S. Army Air Forces, formed in 1941 from the Army Air Corps. Born in Los Angeles to parents of Mexican heritage, Negrette was 22 when he joined the Army in 1942. The following year, he met his future wife, Carol Riaz Castillo, at a USO dance. They celebrated 52 years of marriage before she died in 1997. Tuesday’s birthday party took place because of a friendship born of difficult times. Bothell’s David Karpan, 65, met Larry Negrette in 2014 at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. The older man’s son, William “Bill” Negrette, was there battling small cell lung cancer. He died June 8, 2014. Karpan’s wife, Michelle Yim, is a leukemia survivor whose hospital room in 2014 was next to Bill Negrette’s. “I bought Larry lunch one day, and we have been friends ever since,” said Karpan, who helped arrange Tuesday’s tribute with local VFW leaders. “We renamed the post for the day,” said Donald Wischmann, the post’s quartermaster and a Navy retiree, just before Negrette arrived to see a sign welcoming him to the place that temporarily bore his name. Through the years, Karpan and his wife have befriended Negrette, who still lives in the Marysville home he purchased for $20,000 in 1971. They’ve hosted him for dinners, and it was Karpan who drove Negrette to Tuesday’s surprise party. A financial advisor, Karpan said his own father served aboard a C-130 aircraft used for airlift operations in Vietnam. “I was an Air Force brat. Every year or two, I was in a new school,” he said. It’s been Karpan with whom Negrette has shared stories of World War II. “He went into the infantry, but soon after was transferred to the Army Air Forces,” Karpan said. “He became a mid-gunner. He was shot down twice.” Dubbed the “Flying Fortress,” the Boeing-designed B-17 was a heavy bomber equipped with machine gun turrets in the upper fuselage, belly and tail. Along with the gunners, its typical crew of 10 included the pilot, co-pilot, navigator-radioman and bombardier.
Veteran Larry Negrette, 101, gets a handshake from a fellow service member as the Everett VFW Post hosted a birthday party for him on Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Veteran Larry Negrette, 101, gets a handshake from a fellow service member as the Everett VFW Post hosted a birthday party for him on Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

While the D-Day invasion by Allied forces wouldn’t happen until 1944, the first B-17 raid in Europe was on Aug. 17, 1942, when a dozen of the planes attacked a rail yard in France, according to the National WWII Museum. “I had a bad experience — really bad,” was all Negrette would say about his B-17 memories, which he has carried now for nearly 80 years. “Getting an opportunity to talk to these gentlemen, I really, really look up to the World War II guys,” said Drew James, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. A past commander of VFW Post 7511 in Monroe, James attended Tuesday’s tribute. He was recently recognized as the VFW’s Veteran of the Year at the post, district and state levels. James noted how stoically Second World War veterans transitioned from battle to the home front. At a time before today’s awareness of post-traumatic stress, “sticking through it, that was normal for veterans,” James said. Otis Wolfe, commander of VFW Post 921 in Snohomish, was also there to honor Negrette. He is saddened by the loss of so many from what’s known as “the greatest generation.” Statistics compiled by the National WWII Museum show that in 2020 there were 325,574 surviving World War II veterans — 7,896 of them in Washington — out of what was once a tally of 16 million. About 296 die each day. Nibbling on bites of cake and sipping his coffee, Negrette regaled new friends with his memories. “It’s kind of amazing,” said 87-year-old Jim Newman as he listened to the older man. An Air Force veteran, Newman served in Korea and Vietnam. Negrette worked as a presser in the garment industry after the war, and said he was part of the early days of NASA as an instrument calibrator. He and his wife lived in Arlington when they first moved to Washington, and he worked for a time at the prison in Monroe. He expressed pride in the son he and his wife raised, describing Bill Negrette as “a good boy who grew up to be a good man.” And fondly, he talked of the old days in California, when “Hollywood was Hollywood.” A trumpet player who loved to dance, Negrette said he met Gene Kelly while working at a private Hollywood club. He took dancing lessons and admired Fred Astaire. “I think I’m being spoiled today,” said Negrette, who credits his long life to “walking one step at a time.” “All I did was just live an average life,” he said. “I didn’t do anything special.” Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

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