Clayton Zolber celebrated his 93rd birthday Wednesday, but the World War II veteran almost did not live to see 20.
Zolber, who worked as an engineer building roads and airplane runways, served on Guam and Okinawa during WWII. While at Okinawa, he and another soldier were pinned down during the middle of the night by enemy gunfire that persisted for about four hours.
“I wound up with one of them hitting my (bulldozer) blade and then I barreled underneath the dozer and laid there until daylight came,” Zolber said.
There were times during the night he thought he might not make it out alive.
Zolber said the Japanese must have ran out of ammunition because they eventually stopped shooting and left.
Zolber, who lives with his family outside Troy, worked as a mechanic at an auto repair shop in Kamiah before he was drafted in 1943. He served in the Pacific during the war and re-enlisted shortly after the conflict ended in 1945. He served in Tokyo until he retired from the military in 1950.
For his service, Zolber received a Quilt of Valor on his birthday last week at the Troy Historical Society.
Zolber said he was honored to receive the red, white and blue handmade quilt, which was draped around him during the ceremony. He also received a red, white and blue pillowcase. Kandy Nelson, one of Zolber’s four daughters, said the quilt will be hung on Zolber’s bedroom wall.
Catherine Roberts started the Quilts of Valor Foundation in 2003 from her sewing room in Seaford, Del. Her son Nathanael’s deployment to Iraq provided her the initial inspiration and her desire to see that returning troops were welcomed home with love and gratitude provided the remaining inspiration.
Roberts thought linking quilt top makers with machine quilters in a national effort could achieve her mission of awarding healing quilts to returning service men and women touched by war.
After the service, Zolber picked up where he left off and continued working as a mechanic in Lewiston and on the Palouse. He owned and operated a radiator shop on Latah Street in Pullman.
Zolber’s age has not stopped him from being active.
He said he still drives, and even though he walks with a cane, he uses a riding lawn mower to mow his large yard. He also maintains and repairs mowers.
“I think he’s going to be a mechanic until the day he dies,” Nelson said. “He just doesn’t give it up.”
Zolber is able to do all these activities with only eight fingers. He said he lost his left thumb and index finger while cutting a piece of wood with a table saw five years ago. Zolber said his family could not find his index finger so it could not be sewn back on his hand. His thumb was barely attached to his hand and the doctor was forced to remove it.
Zolber has avoided table saws since.
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