PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- When Special Projects (Code 361) Planner Oscar Thorpe first joined the United States Air Force in December 1954, he was ready to do his duty in serving his country.
Now part of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard family and the oldest veteran currently employed at "America’s Shipyard," Thorpe is proud to continue his service as a civilian.
Born in Waverly, Virginia, Dec. 26, 1936, Thorpe and his family lived there throughout his childhood. At 18 years old, he then signed up for the Air Force out of high school.
“I left my home in Waverly to begin my service where I was stationed on the Southern Islands of Japan and in South Korea,” said Thorpe. “All of us boys in the family entered the service to do our part. One brother of mine was in the 187th Airborne in the Army, and another served in the Army in World War II. It was a job meant to be done, so we all entered to serve.”
Thorpe was an intercept radio operator for four years in the Air Force. He would monitor and intercept transmissions from the enemy, copy them down and pass them along the chain of command.
“It was a very memorable time in my life, and I was proud to be working and be part of something bigger than myself,” said Thorpe.
Following his four years of service, Thorpe returned to Waverly where he and his brothers worked as carpenters until he was hired at a lumber yard. Thorpe eventually married his first wife and had three children. Upon their separation, Thorpe moved to Driver, Virginia, to be with his sister. He then met his second wife and joined the workforce at the Ford Plant in Norfolk.
When the plant closed, Thorpe found his next opportunity that would lead to his lasting career as part of the service he knew well from his military days – working at NNSY.
“My father-in-law talked to me about the shipyard, and I was able to get hired into Shop 06 as a maintenance machinist in 1982,” said Thorpe. “I worked hard for Shop 06 for about eight months before being accepted into the apprenticeship program for Shop 06. I was 45 years old, and it was a hard task for myself. I didn’t finish high school, but was able to get my GED in the service. So there [were] a lot of things being taught that I didn’t understand at first. It was a struggle, but I survived it, worked hard and made sure I learned what I needed to. I was able to graduate the apprenticeship program in three years and was brought into Special Projects, where I’ve been working throughout my time here.”
At 82 years old, Thorpe continues his service at NNSY and has worked hard every day to make a difference. His team in Code 361 wanted to honor him for his dedication and for being the oldest veteran currently employed at America’s Shipyard. The team held a celebration in honor of Thorpe, Nov. 9, surprising him with a plaque and a luncheon for his service.
“It has been my pleasure to have had the honor of working beside Oscar Thorpe for the better part of the last 30 years,” said Roy Bynum, Code 361 deputy project superintendent. “Mr. Thorpe continues to work hard and be a very productive part of the NNSY family to this very day. There is not one thing that has been asked of Oscar Thorpe and he has not produced. There is absolutely nothing I won't personally do for him, and I will continue to love him like a brother. I would like to thank you personally for a job well done, sir, and I can only hope to have a career as decorated as yours.”
Code 361 Joe Singer added, “It is our duty as Americans to acknowledge and show respect for those who have served us and our country. Showing respect for Oscar is easy. He is hard-working and still serving his country. He has been and continues to be a valuable part of America's Shipyard. I am proud to have him as a part of the Code 361 team.
“I was completely surprised when they brought me out onto the floor and everyone was there cheering for me and thanking me for my service,” said Thorpe. “It was a very emotional moment for me. I really enjoyed it a lot. They all recognized the years I’d put into the service, and wanted to learn more about my time in the Air Force. The team had kept asking me to bring in photographs of my service days, and I had no idea why. Now I see they wanted to see my time firsthand and learn about my history. It was truly special, and I thank each and every one of them for doing that for me.”
For Thorpe, being able to show and speak of his Air Force service to his teammates is something he will always cherish.
“You know, being the oldest veteran at the shipyard really makes you stop and think about your past and how you got to this point,” he said. “I appreciate my story, and for my team to not only celebrate me, but continue to want to learn about my service is really special.”
For more news from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnsy/.