Manchester native honored as 'Greatest Generation' KnightBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 25. 2018 8:28PM
MANCHESTER — A Manchester native and now-nationally recognized World War II Marine veteran said his faith literally saved him one day on the Papua New Guinea island of New Britain in the midst of a Japanese onslaught.
Some of Joseph Lavallee’s closest friends did not survive what began as a U.S. offensive that went on over a 21-day period in late 1943 into mid-January 1944.
“During the battle, it was very scary, and a couple of my friends received bullets in the head. The bullet that killed my best friend ricocheted from my arm and got him in between the eyes. There was nothing I could do for him,” Lavallee recalled.
Private First Class Lavallee, 94, said prayer got him through much of the combat he saw in the Pacific theater and he always carried his rosary with him.
But as the shelling continued to rain on their positions along the beach, Lavallee lost that rosary in the muddy floor of his foxhole.
“When the troops went ahead, I said, ‘I can’t leave until I get my rosary,’” Lavallee recalled. “It’s very important to have a strong faith.”
His son, Paul, an ordained Roman Catholic deacon, said it was only three years ago at his insistence that his father started telling him stories about his World War II exploits.
“There’s no doubt that rosary saved him as so many were lost that went right ahead of him,” said Paul Lavallee during a telephone interview Friday.
The latest issue of Columbia, the international magazine for the Knights of Columbus, has named Lavallee as one of only five “Knights of the Greatest Generation.”
“It’s quite an honor, I was completely shocked by it,” Joseph said from his hospital bed at Three Rivers Hospital in Grants Pass, Ore.
The elder Lavallee is recovering from a bout with pneumonia and hopes to be back in his home in a week.
“I still have that rosary today,” he said.
In an earlier taped interview for the magazine, Lavallee said the gunshot wound wasn’t his only injury.
“On New Britain, I had contracted all sorts of tropical diseases and couldn’t even walk. So, they shipped me to San Diego Naval Hospital, where I spent more than a year recovering,” he said.
Lavallee grew up in a 12-person French-Canadian household in Manchester with five boys and five girls living on a 5-acre farm.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lavallee enlisted even though he was at the time only 16½ years old.
His other four brothers fought in Europe while he was in the Pacific; they all survived.
Upon getting out, Lavallee took a friend’s advice and joined the Knights of Columbus, going on to become a district deputy in the Oregon state administration and he brought 40 new members into the fold.
Many of the Lavallees’ extended family’s descendants still live in New Hampshire, but Joseph moved out west and stayed there, first running an income tax service and later working 33 years for North American Rockwell Corp. as a project manager on several NASA projects including Saturn rockets during the late 1960s.
The father of four, Joseph Lavallee outlived two wives, who both died of cancer.
“He’s seen a lot, done a lot and I’m still so grateful he’s still here and even today can live on his own with a caregiver that comes to see him four days a week,” said Paul Lavallee.