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Memoirs of a Marine: Federal Way veteran finds therapy in writing

Elwin Hart held a book signing Oct. 21 at Village Green Retirement Campus for his recently published memoir, “Did I Do Enough?” - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
Elwin Hart held a book signing Oct. 21 at Village Green Retirement Campus for his recently published memoir, “Did I Do Enough?”
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Elwin Hart, a resident of Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way, recently published his memoir on life in the military.

“That’s the best book I’ve ever written,” said Hart, 87. “In fact, it’s the only one.”

All kidding aside, writing the book has set him free.

The title — “Did I Do Enough?” — refers to the last years Hart spent with his wife of 63-plus years, Gladys, who died in 2008. They first met on Bainbridge Island, when he was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marines and she served in the WAVES (a women’s division in the U.S. Navy) in World War II. The couple eventually adopted three children.

Hart’s marriage and family are a thread throughout the 289-page book, which is packed with photos. The book covers his 33-year military career, along with service in state and county government, including a stint as Pierce County sheriff in 1979.

Hart’s career in the U.S. Marine Corps began in May 1941, just five days before his 17th birthday. The Louisiana native primarily worked in communications starting in World War II, where he saw military action in the Pacific.

That experience took him from Guadalcanal to Tarawa to New Zealand to Samoa. Tawara was the site of a bloody 1943 battle against the Japanese. For three days in Tarawa, he manned his battalion’s only radio communication off the remote island. The experience was so intense, Hart said, that he didn’t eat for those three days and only barely sipped from his canteen.

Hart was with U.S. forces in Korea in the demilitarized zone when the truce was signed between the North and South. He was also among the first U.S. Marines to enter Vietnam, he said.

In 1974, Hart retired from the military as a colonel. Armed with a master’s degree in public administration, he later worked in Pierce County government as director of the Law and Justice Planning Office. Aside from serving as Pierce County Sheriff for a few months in 1979, Hart also worked for the state law and gambling commissions. He eventually retired altogether in 1985.

During the past year, Hart wrote his book, chapter by chapter. He combed through dozens of old photographs to trigger his memory. Some events were not so hard to recall.

“Dates like when you land on an island, you remember forever,” he said.

He thanks sister, Yvon Hart of Seattle, for encouraging his participation in a writing group at Village Green. Yvon Hart said her brother was experiencing depression upon his wife’s death — plus she knew Elwin could tell a good story.

Hart is not interested in making money off the book, he said, although all proceeds will go toward his favorite charity: his three children.

“That was a cathartic, therapeutic exercise,” he said. “I have a new lease on life after writing this book.”

Veterans Day observance

Elwin Hart will be one of the guest speakers at the second annual Honoring Our Own, a program that pays tribute to military veterans in the Federal Way area. The event will run 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Todd Beamer High School, 35999 16th Ave. S. Hart served 33 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and saw combat in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“I’m going to thank the older veterans, but I’m going to talk to the future veterans,” Hart said of the upcoming observance. He recently published a memoir titled “Did I Do Enough?” To learn more about the book, contact Hart at waazhart45@comcast.net or (253) 820-9439.

Last year’s event featured Medal of Honor recipient Col. Joe Jackson, along with a military brass quintet, a flag-folding ceremony, the Todd Beamer honor guard and “thank you” letters by local students for the troops. To learn more, contact Diana Noble-Gulliford at the Historical Society of Federal Way: diana@gulliford.com or (206) 412-5545.

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