CHESTERFIELD, VA – February 29th only comes around once every four years, so retired Col. Arthur Haake has technically only ever had 25 birthdays, but the Marine Raider veteran celebrated his 100th on February 29, 2016.
Haake was born February 29, 1916, in New York, and he's lived quite the adventure over the last century.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Arthur Haake, center, poses with Staff Sgt. Justin Billingsley, left, and Sgt. Aaron Diamant at his 100th birthday celebration, February 29, 2016. Billingsley, a Chesterfield native, was inspired to join the Marine Corps while working at the same retirement community that Haake resides in. (U.S. Marine Corps courtesy photo)
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Haake worked as an attorney for one year before joining the Marine Corps. He graduated from Officer Candidates School in 1940 and served as an infantry platoon leader. From there, he became part of the original Marine Raiders.
“We drove around the Caribbean, you know, us Raider Battalion commando-types,” said Haake. “But before long, we were sent to serve in the Pacific. The Japanese had taken over the Solomon Islands and we fought for the air fields.”
As part of the initial wave of the offensive, Haake and his Marines made an amphibious landing, departing from a Navy destroyer in rubber boats under the cover of darkness. The Raiders faced “a lot of opposition” in their mission to retake the Solomon Islands from the determined, and firmly entrenched Japanese defenders.
Haake spent nearly two years island hopping through the Pacific before returning stateside to attend the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
After completing his training, Haake returned to the Pacific and found himself on the island of Peleliu, a battle referred to as the bitterest of the war for Marines. Haake was wounded by an explosion during the fierce battle.
“I was hit in the back of the neck, face, and lost an ear drum,” said Haake. “A little bit more and there would have been no more Arthur Haake.”
Wounded, but determined, Haake also saw action on Okinawa before war's end, and even served a post-war duty in China. He finally returned home in 1945.
Haake continued his Marine Corps career serving in a variety of special assignments, including being the last equitation officer in the corps where he taught young Marines to pack horses. He then served as a judge on the Marine Court of Appellate Review, before retiring in 1967 – a 27-year career.
In his civilian life, Haake worked as the assistant to the city manager for Fredericksburg, Virginia, and had a 40-acre horse farm in Caroline County. Haake says he loves to sing and play the guitar.
When asked about the secret to living such a long life, Haake says, “You have to have a sense of humor. I've never looked back, and I've always been able to live well in the situation I was in. But really, there's nothing else I'd have rather done with my life.”
“He's a real national treasure,” said Haake's nephew, Billy Haake, who also served as a Marine. “He was born on leap day in 1916, and his life has been extra special ever since. He's lead a truly remarkable life.”
“It's an honor to wear the same uniform as Col. Haake,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Billingsley, a Chesterfield, Virginia, native who used to work at the retirement community where Haake resides. “The men and women who live here, the veterans of America's Greatest Generation, are the reason I do what I do today.”
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Aaron Diamant
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