L.H. “Doc” Fox never thought he would make it to age 30 — much less 100.
Plucked out of the South Plains of Texas, he was drafted into the Army in July of 1941.
At the time, the thought of war was not at the forefront of his mind.
Five months later, that would all change. As he was headed on a ship to Hawaii, he and his fellow soldiers learned Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
“We had no ammunition,” Fox said. “We had no guns. When we left, there wasn’t any war.”
Fox would not only survive World War II, he would live a full life.
Friday, he turned 100 and will have a party on Saturday — Veterans Day — at Joe T. Garcia’s, where more than 100 people are expected to attend.
“I’ll be having a margarita,” Fox said.
The Mansfield resident, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law, said there were plenty of times during the war he never thought he would survive. And for most of his life, he’s had off-and-on bouts with malaria that he contracted during the war.
His entry into World War II would start with a return to the U.S. mainland after Pearl Harbor — first to San Francisco, then to Washington state before being sent to Australia in 1942.
He was part of the 41st Infantry Division, which was the first Army division to head out after Pearl Harbor. The 41st would be overseas 45 months, earning the honor of the longest service away from U.S. soil by an Army division. Fox was part of the 163rd Infantry Regiment.
When they arrived in Australia, there was fear of an invasion. The Japanese had launched raids on northern Australia, including a Feb. 19, 1942, raid on Darwin that was the largest attack at that point in the war by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.
“They thought they was going to try and make a landing,” Fox said. “We were sent 20 miles from Melbourne to dig foxholes to protect ourselves.”
From Australia, they would go to New Guinea in 1943, where they would be involved in jungle warfare. At some point, Fox would contract malaria.
His symptoms really hit him as the 41st was making a landing on the island of Biak in May 1944.
It would be one of the bloodiest battles for the 41st, with nearly 500 Americans and 6,100 Japanese soldiers being killed.
But Fox’s symptoms would prevent him from taking part in the initial invasion.
“The Navy doctors wanted me to stay on the boat, but my division was getting off the boat,” Fox said. “I went with them and got on the beach.”
When Fox and one his fellow soldiers were unable to dig foxholes in the thick coral rock, he became too weak to carry on.
Another soldier, who was trying to protect him, told him “’Doc, I can’t take care of you,’ ” Fox said.
So he would spend the next week or so in an Army field hospital trying to recover, worrying that the Japanese might shell the beach at any moment.
His health would improve though, and he rejoined his division.
Fox and his fellow soldiers would take the medication, Atarbrine, in an attempt to ward off malaria. One of the side effects was turning the skin yellow.
“We took so much of it we were all bright yellow,” Fox said.
Malaria has dogged him for the rest of his life.
The symptoms — hands shaking and a chill that no amount of coats or blankets can ward off — come without warning though it has been less frequent in recent years, he said.
From New Guinea, Fox’s division would travel to the Philippines for the remainder of his stay during the war.
Fox credits his survival to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the larger-than-life World War II legend, whose leadership helped win the war against Japan.
“The reason I’m here right now is because of Gen. MacArthur taking the precautions he did,” Fox said.
Fox would return home in October of 1945. He settled in Buttonwillow, Calif., just outside of Bakersfield.
During the war, he earned enough money from his poker winnings to buy a service station and also send money home to one of his sisters.
“I made more money playing poker that I sent home than I collected the whole time from the Army,” Fox said.
With his malaria recurring regularly, Fox would recruit one brother, J.D., to join him in California to help run the gas station. They would also buy one of the town’s three bars, where they would run a lucrative poker game in the back that Fox said was legal at the time.
But their days in the bar business quickly ended when a former felon showed up one night and started drinking their beer out of a storage room and then pulled a gun on his brother. No was injured and the man was quickly arrested, but the Fox brothers had had enough of running bars.
“A week or two after that, we sold it,” Fox said.
He would then return to Texas to the town of Petersburg, outside of Lubbock. Throughout his career, he owned a dozen businesses, including a sewing machine company and a mattress factory, before retiring at 67.
For the most part, he’s had good health, although an infection put him in the hospital for a lengthy stay in the mid-90s. Even through that ordeal, he remained upbeat, said his son, Steve Fox.
“He would say, ‘I don’t have to eat my own cooking,’ ” Steve Fox said. “ ‘I get more people coming up here to see me in the hospital than I do at home.’ ”
Even in his 90s, his poker skills remained sharp enough for him to stay up until 4 a.m. and take home the winnings from a New Year’s Eve party.
The youngest of nine children, Fox was named after the town doctor in the community of Estacado, which was the first Anglo agricultural settlement on the South Plains, according to the Handbook of Texas.
The town doctor told his parents he got to name the child since he had delivered all of the others and this would be their last child. His parents agreed and he was named Laird after the physician’s last name.
“But I was always Doc,” Fox said. “I’ve never been anything else.”
His son credits the support of his father’s siblings when he was growing up. His mother would die when he was 11 and his father passed away when he was 16.
Fox said he was essentially “an orphan,” renting a room for $5 a month and eating meals at his sister’s restaurant every day while finishing up high school.
“I never did take any books home,” Fox said. “Nobody forced me to study. I didn’t ever fail. I managed to get by.”
And do far more than that.
Even as he got older, Steve Fox said his father has helped a number of people throughout the years. Because of his circumstances growing up, family and friends have always been a priority to Fox.
“He’s kind of been a mentor to a couple of people,” Steve Fox said. “It’s been kinda cool.”