Russ Hupe, a 101-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy, sits in his “big chair” on Nov. 3, at his home at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. Hupe was Grand Marshal for Mill Creek’s Veterans Day ceremony this year. When asked if he ever anticipated being recognized for his service in WWII, he said with a laugh, “it wasn’t on my agenda.” (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Russ Hupe, a 101-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy, sits in his “big chair” on Nov. 3, at his home at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. Hupe was Grand Marshal for Mill Creek’s Veterans Day ceremony this year. When asked if he ever anticipated being recognized for his service in WWII, he said with a laugh, “it wasn’t on my agenda.” (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Mill Creek WWII veteran Russ Hupe stays on the front lines

Hupe, 101, was grand marshal in the city’s Veterans Day parade. It’s just the latest story in a long life full of them.

MILL CREEK — It was Dec. 8, 1941, and Russ Hupe thought the Japanese had bombed Alaska.

That afternoon, a radio blaring in his classroom at Oregon State College, now Oregon State University, reported the bombing of Pearl Harbor the day before. Hupe’s mind went to Alaska, to the naval outpost on the remote tail of the Aleutian Islands. That was Dutch Harbor, and Hupe was a little bit off.

But the attack was still fresh in his mind when he saw a Navy recruitment poster in the hangar where he was taking a civilian pilot training class. “Fly The Wings of Gold,” it said, and it stuck with him. He enlisted in the Navy the next week.

“I knew I had to do something soon or the draft board would make the choice for me,” Hupe said. “And that poster just stayed with me.”

Russ Hupe rides in a sidecar alongside Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers's Ural Deco 750 motorcycle while serving as grand marshal in Mill Creek's Veterans Day parade on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.

Four days later, a card arrived calling him up for the draft. By then, he was already on his way to California for aviator boot camp.

Now 101 years old and living in a retirement community in Mill Creek, Hupe is still one to rise to the occasion. He was elected president of his community’s resident council for six years running. He’s spent the last two years crafting an emergency contingency plan for all 200 residents of his apartment complex. And on Friday, he served as grand marshal in Mill Creek’s Veterans Day parade.

To mark the occasion, Hupe rode down the parade route in a sidecar alongside Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers on a blue-and-white Ural Deco 750 motorcycle. Though he’s lived a long life full of adventure, that was a dream Hupe said he’d never gotten to chase before now.

An 80-year-old photo of veteran Russ Hupe sits on the table in his home on Nov. 3, at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

An 80-year-old photo of veteran Russ Hupe sits on the table in his home on Nov. 3, at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Learning to fly

Hupe was born Aug. 16, 1922, in Addie, Idaho, a remote community about 5 miles south of the Canadian border where his parents had a tiny homestead and a log cabin. His father died in an accident when Hupe was 9 months old, and from there he and his mother moved around the West Coast throughout his childhood, going wherever good work could be found.

He remembers clearly his first ride in an airplane. A veteran of World War I landed his old military biplane in a field behind the family home, and 10-year-old Hupe begged his grandmother to pay a few cents so he and his cousin could crouch on the floorboards behind the pilot as he swooped over the pastures below. The idea would be enough to give any of today’s air security officials heart palpitations, but Hupe remembers the thrilled beat of his own heart as he he hung on tight to the rickety flying machine. Once he got to college and was able to train as a civilian pilot, that thrill was reawakened.

After graduating from high school in Auburn, California, in 1939, Hupe spent a year milking cows and hitching teams of draft horses at his uncle’s farm in Wisconsin while he figured out his next steps. He ended up in Oregon, studying fish and game management. And that’s where he was when America entered World War II in 1941.

All Hupe’s plans went on hold while he endured Navy boot camp in California, then was sent on to flight training in Oklahoma and Texas. When he graduated and was commissioned as an officer, he asked for sea duty. He was assigned to land.

Hupe admits he wasn’t much good at his landlocked duties at first. But after he went back for advanced training in piloting twin-engine aircraft, he became enchanted all over again by the challenge of flying. Soon, he was assigned to train new recruits. His first job as a flight instructor was teaching new pilots to fly without looking at the ground, depending solely on the myriad gauges and buttons on their instrument panels.

Those war years flew by impossibly fast. Hupe was flying three training missions a day, six days a week, and he rarely had time to keep up with what was happening overseas. He did find time, though, to take some hard-earned leave and head back to Oregon, where he married his college sweetheart Genevieve. By war’s end, Hupe earned the rank of lieutenant commander.

For his 23rd birthday, he and his wife made reservations for a lavish lunch with his crew to celebrate. When they arrived at the restaurant, the line was out the door and around the block. It was Aug. 16, 1945, and the Japanese had announced their surrender the day before.

“That was the first we’d heard of it,” Hupe recalls. “And luckily, our uniforms convinced them to put us at the front of the line.”

A photo of Russ Hupe and his two sons hangs outside Hupe’s home on Nov. 3, at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A photo of Russ Hupe and his two sons hangs outside Hupe’s home on Nov. 3, at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Touching back down

With the war over, Hupe set his sights on the goal he’d put on hold four years earlier: earning his college degree. He and Genevieve moved back to Oregon while he finished his studies, and right after graduation in 1947, he embarked on what would become a 32-year career with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. But like his military career, he didn’t have the smoothest start.

“At that time there were 48 states, and I applied to the game departments of every single one,” Hupe said. “Not one got back to me, except for Washington. I accepted right away.”

The Hupes settled in Olympia, where they lived for 64 years. As a wildlife biologist, Hupe spent his days in the outdoors, keeping an eye on the deer, ducks and fish of Western Washington. It was “a dream job,” he said.

Hupe remained affiliated with the Navy through the Korean War, during which he had provisional orders for service but was never called up. He was in the Navy Reserves until he reached age 60, a time he described as full of support and community from fellow vets, “kind of like a fraternity.”

He and Genevieve had three children. His two sons both followed in their father’s footsteps to join the Navy.

“I practically enlisted them,” Hupe said, laughing. “I enjoyed my time in the military, and besides, it was time they did something.”

When he retired from state Fish and Wildlife in 1979, he and Genevieve spent much of their time on their shared hobby of genealogy. In those days, Hupe said, they had to travel to dig through old records in person, and that gave them the chance to see the country together while compiling their family trees.

WWII veteran Russ Hupe shows off a display of his honors earned during his years in the armed forces on Nov. 3, at his home at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

WWII veteran Russ Hupe shows off a display of his honors earned during his years in the armed forces on Nov. 3, at his home at Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

They were married for 72 years. Genevieve died in 2016. Hupe moved to Cogir Senior Living in Mill Creek to be closer to his daughter, who lives in Brier.

Jackie Reindal, activity director at Cogir, said she’s always been struck by Hupe’s positivity. He’s always out doing something to better his community, she said, and she attributed his longevity in part to his endless enthusiasm for life.

“Well, that and modern medicine,” Hupe replied.

Hupe said he’s deeply honored to be able to represent veterans like himself as grand marshal in the Mill Creek parade. In researching his family tree, he was able to locate the graves of ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. He remembers Armistice Day parades of his youth, watching men who served in World War I ride by on floats. He feels lucky to be counted among them.

Asked if he ever dreamed of being honored in such a way back when he enlisted, Hupe chuckles.

“It wasn’t on my agenda,” he said.

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

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