A few days before his 100th birthday, Dalmon E. Calcote pulled his riding lawnmower out of the shed to cut grass at his Philomath home on College Street. To his friends, he’s “Ed” and he could pass for a man of younger years.
Not only does he mow his own yard, but he lives alone — his wife, Margaret, passed away in late 2016. He speaks with enthusiasm and will gladly share stories from the 10 decades of his life — from childhood years in Louisiana to his military service in World War II to his 33 years working as a civilian baker.
Asked how it feels to be a century old, Calcote said with a smile, “I don’t feel any different being 100 than I did, oh, eight or 10 years ago.”
Following retirement in 1980, Calcote moved to the region — first living in Blodgett before buying a house on a quiet street in Philomath. He’s the father of five children and outlived the three youngest.
Last year, Calcote was honored with a Quilt of Valor during a special Veterans Day event at Philomath Scout Lodge.
Indeed, he’s one of the “greatest generation” who served his country during World War II and is still around to talk about it. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said last year that there were just over 167,000 World War II veterans still alive. That number is estimated to fall below 100,000 in 2024.
Life on the USS Heermann
Calcote’s memory has stayed with him through these late years and he can share numerous stories about his time aboard the USS Heermann dating back to when it was built in San Francisco. The destroyer launched Dec. 5, 1942 and was commissioned the following July. In October 1943, the Heermann headed on her first voyage to Pearl Harbor and entered the Pacific theater of war.
The Heermann with Calcote among those on board came under attack in the fall of 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf — one of the most significant conflicts of the war. The destroyer was steaming east of the island of Samar in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 1944.
“We were just furnishing coverage for three aircraft carriers and we weren’t expecting them because they came out from the opposite direction and it was practically the whole Japanese fleet,” Calcote said. “There were at least three battleships and the same amount of heavy cruisers and then they had smaller ships like ours … It was hell for hours.”
According to U.S. Navy historical accounts, the Japanese contingent included four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers. The American aircraft carriers Calcote mentioned maneuvered into position and got planes up in the air to try to slow the Japanese advance. The Heermann took part in laying down a smoke screen in a maneuver designed to conceal the carriers.
After untangling from two near collisions with other ships, the Heermann came under fire by the enemy and was engaged for a period with a Japanese battleship. A little later, an enemy heavy cruiser fired on the Heermann.
“We managed to make it out but we did take four hits … we had three above deck and one hit right at the waterline where the anchor chain was,” Calcote said. “When that hit, it flooded naturally and slowed us down.”
According to Navy accounts, a Japanese shell plunged into the Heerman’s pilothouse killing three sailors. The destroyer was then being targeted by other enemy ships and two more shell hits forward, resulting in flooding in several compartments. Another shell exploded near the keel.
“I can’t remember exactly when we got hit because I think it was on the opposite side of where I was stationed,” Calcote said. “I think the first round … they took out our No. 1 gun. And then there was one that went right through the pilothouse — about 4 feet above my head … I was right underneath that where my gun station was.”
Calcote speaks with pride about how the Heermann performed during the confrontation.
“We were pretty well crumpled up but we managed to get out,” Calcote said, something two other destroyers could not claim. “We come out, as they said, as the only destroyer that fired on a battleship and came out alive. We’d have to be pretty close to get to a battleship because a battleship has a range of 20 miles.”
The tenacious “tin can sailors” — a term that refers to those serving on destroyers — had been successful in fending off a significant Japanese force in what ended up as the largest naval battle of World War II.
Calcote has a lot of other fascinating war stories to tell leading up to the eventual surrender of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri and what life was like aboard ship working in the galley.
Roots on a farm in Louisiana
Dalmon Edwin Calcote entered military service at age 19, the 5-foot-6, 120-pound son of Ross and Gertie Calcote. According to a draft registration card that men between the ages of 18 and 44 were required to fill out, he lived in rural Vernon Parish, Louisiana.
Calcote didn’t wait around to be drafted and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in September 1942, a little more than nine months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the beginning of a training journey that took him from Louisiana to San Diego to Goat Island in San Francisco Bay.
Calcote went to baker’s school in Alameda, California.
“I spent 16 weeks there and that’s where I wound up with the name ‘Ed,’” Calcote recalled. “One of the older bakers there when I first went in, he asked what my name was and I told him my full name. He said, ‘you’re Ed’ and I’ve been Ed ever since.”
Back home in Louisiana before joining the Navy, he had gone by the nickname, “Buddy.”
Calcote later received his ship assignment as a baker second class. After six to eight months at sea, he was promoted to first class.
Following his discharge in October 1945 from the Navy, the Louisiana native continued to bake and in fact, remained in the profession for 33 years beyond the three in the military.
While in the service, Calcote got married and became a father for the first time. After the war, he went back to Louisiana but with no job prospects, relocated to California and ended up taking a job in a small-town bakery (at 40 cents an hour). Through the years, he worked mostly in retail bakeries.
For his 100th birthday, Calcote had plans to celebrate Saturday at home with family, including a daughter and son, and then on Sunday with a party that’s planned to take place after church.