There was a moment back in 1945 when Walter Longhurst believed that his life was about to end. He was a 19-year-old gunner’s mate on the LCS (L) 61 gunboat in the United States Navy, and a Japanese kamikaze plane had its sights set on his ship.
“I thought I was dead that night,” Longhurst said. The plane hit the water just beyond the ship, with a tail piece breaking off of the plane and killing one man aboard.
Today, Walter resides in Aston Township with his wife, not far from where the two grew up in Chester, Pa. Walter has been a locksmith at Eastern since February 1985. He generates the pin-codes for every door, changing them each quarter during the school year and every time there is a conference during the summer. He also is responsible for the keys on campus, which fill two filing cabinets in his office.
Longhurst, who will be turning 82 on Sept. 24, sat by a window in the Plant Operations building with a cup of coffee in front of him and recalled his earlier life.
“She was the first girl I went out with when I was discharged from the Navy,” Longhurst said of his wife, Claire. He was discharged in May 1946, after being drafted into World War II at age 18 and serving for two years. It was February of his senior year when Longhurst left Chester High School to train for the Navy.
Receiving special permission, Longhurst traveled one-and-a-half hours by train from Bainbridge, Md., to participate in his high school graduation, “which was very nice,” he said. “I got special liberty for that.”
Walt and the LCS (L) 61 took part in the battle of Okinawa. He stayed aboard until the ship was decommissioned.
Longhurst proposed to Claire in August, three months after being discharged from the Navy. April 5 was their 61st wedding anniversary.
In September 1950, Longhurst was called back into the Navy for the Korean War. While he was serving as gun-captain, Longhurst’s second child was born.
He did not see his daughter until she was eight months old, when he had a 30-day leave. Longhurst and his wife later had four more children. Their three daughters and three sons live no farther from their parents than Washington, D.C.
All Longhurst’s co-workers think highly of him. Bill Mayo, mechanic in plant operations, has worked in the department with Longhurst for 15 years.
“He’s just a really nice guy,” Mayo said. “If we have any questions or need anything from him, we interact.”
Scottie Morrison, also a 15-year employee in plant operations, hoped that Walter would be recognized for his war achievements before the younger members of the Eastern community.
“I asked if the school would give him some sort of honor in front of the students,” Morrison said, explaining that they honored Longhurst instead at a breakfast held for faculty and staff.
“I like the job,” Longhurst said of his current position as locksmith. “It gets me out of my wife’s house,” he said, laughing and then correcting himself. “She says she’s lonely when I come to work.”
Longhurst keeps busy and maintains a positive approach to each day.
“Plan like you’re going to live forever, and live like you’re going to die today,” he said. “It’s a good way to live.”