Born on the 4th of July, Glenwood Springs WWII vet recounts his calling
Wanting a change of scenery after growing up “dirt poor” in the Los Angeles area in the early 1930s, that day that forever lives in infamy gave Ernie Reynolds — who turns 90 years old on the 4th of July — the chance to change his fortunes.
Playing in a baseball game with local ironworkers on Dec. 7, 1941 just outside of Los Angeles, Reynolds vividly remembers a radio announcement blaring over the loudspeaker at the field announcing that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
“That’s when I felt a change within me; it gave me purpose,” Reynolds said from his regular spot at the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub in downtown Glenwood Springs two days before his milestone birthday.
“I wanted to do something with my life, and I wanted to get away from home,” he said. “That’s how I first got the inkling to join up.”
Four years later, in 1945, just 16 years old at the time, Reynolds — raised by his grandmother — tried to enlist in the Marine Corps twice, but was turned away twice for being “too skinny” before the recruiting officer accepted his papers, which his grandmother signed off on.
“She knew I needed to get out of there and do something different,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into; nobody did at that time. Everyone was just so gung-ho to join up and be part of the war.”
Being part of the war led Reynolds to the 1st Ranger Division within the Marine Corps, which departed Camp Pendleton in San Diego via troop transport trains, winding its way up the West Coast to Bremerton, Washington and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. That’s where the California boy and the rest of his Marines in the 1st Ranger Division loaded up on ship to head to Naha Harbor, Okinawa.
That trip north, as well as the trip across the Pacific Ocean to Okinawa on the General A.E. Anderson — an AP-111 troop transport — was an eye-opening experience for the then 16-year-old.
“I’d never seen snow before, so when we went north I saw snow for the first time and was just amazed,” Reynolds said. “Then, when we came around the Philippines, I’d never seen the jungle before like that, so it was all pretty eye-opening.”
During that trip to Okinawa, Reynolds wasn’t quite sure of what lay ahead. All he knew at the time was that he was finally part of something and was making something of himself in the Marine Corps.
Once in Okinawa, he was in an occupied territory near the end of World War II, but the California native was fortunate enough to not have seen fighting on the island. Just a few weeks after landing on the island, the Japanese surrendered, ending the Pacific Theater fighting, allowing Reynolds to eventually return home.
Reynolds got out of the Marine Corps after three years to return home to be with his ailing grandmother, who passed away a few months after his return.
Following the loss of his grandmother, Reynolds didn’t have much of a plan for his future. The development of friendships helped Reynolds get on a career path, though. He landed on his feet in engineering, working with Aerojet General in Rancho Cordova, California, working as a general laborer on the manufacturing floor.
“I guess I impressed my bosses, because I kept on moving up,” Reynolds said. “I really got into it; I was smart and learned a lot and just kind of kept moving up. I always had a good job, even if I wasn’t really an engineer.”
Through Aerojet General, and later with the Ogden Corporation, Reynolds was able to travel the country and the world for work with the company, eventually leading him from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, to Colorado.
In that time, the soon-to-be 90-year-old met a lot of people, developed a number of relationships, and had two daughters, Sydney and Shelley.
Closing in on his own milestone birthday doesn’t mean much to Reynolds, who views it as just another 4th of July, despite the special number he’s about to hit.
“It doesn’t mean that much to me, honestly,” Reynolds said. “I’m looking forward to seeing my daughters and grandchildren, and I’m excited to just have a small family celebration. Having a birthday on the 4th of July has never been special to me, even when I was in the military.”
Asked what the key to reaching the age of 90 is, the humble Reynolds chuckled, adding, “it’s important to keep good people around you. That’s been a key for me; I’ve met many people and developed some great relationships, and that keeps me going. Oh, and make sure you take care of your health. That’s the most important.”