Joe Sadlier

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2009

Former Juneau and Ketchikan resident Joseph Byron Sadlier died April 16, 2009, at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle, Wash. He was 82.

Born Jan. 6, 1927, in Juneau, he quit high school to join the Navy in the last year of World War II. He and a Juneau friend headed south on a boat when Sadlier was 17, hitchhiked to San Diego and joined the U.S. Navy.

He served from 1943 to 1946, assigned to an amphibious vessel known as an LST - landing ship, tank - out of Pearl Harbor. Sadlier's first ship loaded a combat team and caught the battle of Okinawa.

Following his wartime service and for the rest of his life, Sadlier made sure young people knew why his generation fought in World War II by visiting classes and working with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post to improve veterans' memorials here and in Metlakatla. He came to Ketchikan in 1981 and owned the Stedman Barber Shop.

After he retired from barbering, Sadlier drove the borough bus for 16 years, quitting only after he became ill in November. A Navy cook, he was still famous locally for his delectable cookies.

One highlight of his life was being chosen to be among the 29 veterans with an average age of 72 who prepared and sailed the LST-325 from Greece to Mobile, Ala., from late 2000 to early 2001. The ship is now a museum and memorial in Evansville, Ind.

Sadlier served as the ship's cook on the trans-Atlantic voyage, which began Dec. 12, 2000, and ended Jan. 10, 2001.

"I was working seven days a week, making two meals a day and trying to hang on to everything while cooking because of all the rough weather," he said when he arrived back in Ketchikan.

The voyage was not the entire story. The veterans arrived in Greece and worked four months to get the ship seaworthy.

"We took on a cockroach-ridden ship ... a dead ship," he said. "There was no water and power. The wiring was torn out. There was water in the bilges and the engine room that was above the deck plates. We took a derelict ship and in four months we put it all back together again."

Sadlier was a photogenic man with a hearty laugh and occasionally bawdy sense of humor. He was featured on a History Channel documentary of the voyage. He was greeted as a hero when he returned to Ketchikan, the only Alaskan on the LST-325 crew.

He said how wonderful it was to return to American soil after living in troops' quarters with no amenities for months. Though it had been 56 years since most of the crew had been to sea, "when we got back on that ship, it all came back," Sadlier said.

The journey itself had moments that brought tears to Sadlier's eyes as he recounted them.

"I tell you, when we were at sea, I probably saw some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that you could imagine," he said the day he got home to Ketchikan. "I sincerely mean this: There was times you could reach out and touch God, that's how beautiful it was."

That same year, Sadlier was named grand marshal of Ketchikan's July 4 parade, prompting him to joke that the only remaining accomplishment to make the year complete would be an invitation to model underwear for Fruit of the Loom.

A month after returning home from the voyage, he received something he'd been missing for nearly 60 years: a high school diploma. Gov. Tony Knowles came to Ketchikan's VFW hall to present the diploma to Sadlier on what Knowles had declared "Joe Sadlier Day in Alaska."

The sheepskin was presented under a 2000 bill allowing the state Department of Education to award diplomas to WWII veterans who hadn't finished high school.

He was active in the VFW and his family lists as his hobby simply, "Community involvement."

He is survived by sons, Pat Sadlier of North Carolina and Shawn Sadlier of Milwaukie, Ore.; and daughter, Connie Stoneburner of Redmond, Wash.

A celebration of life was held Saturday, April 25, at the Ketchikan Veterans of Foreign Wars.

His remains will be buried at the U.S. Veterans Administration's Sitka National Cemetery.

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