By Matthew Daigle
NORWAY — After 34 years of marriage, Ralph and Rose Moulton have figured out the secret to living a happy life: Keep it simple and stay busy.
Ralph, a World War II veteran who turns 90 in August, said that he has spent his 30 years of retirement spending time with his friends and family and finding projects to work on that keep him busy.
“If you keep it simple and stay busy, you’ll be happy,” Ralph said during an interview at his home on Friday, May 18. “It’s as easy as that.”
Rose agreed with her husband, adding, “We’ve lived a very simple, happy and creative life. It doesn’t take a whole lot.”
On Monday, May 29, the Moultons will be recognized for the years they’ve dedicated to their community and their country when they serve as the grand marshals for Norway’s annual Memorial Day Parade.
Sharon Hale, the past commander of Stone-Smart American Legion Post No. 82 of Norway, said that Ralph Moulton is being recognized for his time serving in the Navy during World War II, while his wife, Rose, is being recognized for her work in maintaining the garden at the Veterans Memorial for 16 years.
Boy from Sweden
Moulton grew up in Sweden, a town that, at the time, had no gas station, no stores, and no electricity.
He joined the Navy in 1944 when he was just 17 years old. It was the earliest that someone could enlist to the military at the time, he said, so he had to get permission from his parents to apply.
“My friend and I promised each other that we would get out of school and apply together,” Moulton said. “When I got out of school, I got to the building where you enlist, but my friend was nowhere to be found. I said, ‘To hell with him!’ and joined anyway.”
Moulton followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers, who both served in the Army. He said that his oldest brother was seriously wounded while fighting in Germany and had to stay at a military hospital for a couple of years.
“I was told before I applied to apply for the Navy before they drafted me and stuck me in the Army,” Moulton said. “Plus, I had always liked boats and the water, so I decided to do it.”
After boot camp, Moulton said that he and the other Navy recruits were shipped to California on a train with very little room to move, let alone sleep.
“It took us two weeks to get there by train, and it was cramped,” he said. “There weren’t any sleeper trains at the time, so we would sleep the best way we could.”
Moulton said that he and the others were taken by bus to the USS Bon Homme Richard, a 27,000-ton aircraft carrier that loomed over the incoming sailors as they approached it.
“I was just a little boy from Sweden, and I had never seen anything like it before,” Moulton said. “It was this great big structure all lit up, and all I could think is, ‘What the devil is that?’”
A year at sea
The Bon Homme Richard set sail near the end of 1944, headed into the South Pacific and towards Japan.
While Moulton said that he didn’t have an official title on the ship, he and some of the other recruits were informally known as “plane captains.”
“Each of us were assigned to an airplane, and if the pilot of a plane needed work done on it, he would turn to us,” Moulton explained. “We were their couriers.”
Moulton said the ship “immediately hit a storm” that left all of the new recruits seasick.
“It was a bad enough storm that a lot of the planes that had taken off earlier had to fly back to California and wait for the weather to get better,” he said. “On the ship, everyone was seasick, including me. Everywhere you went, there was vomit.”
As the ship approached Japan in 1945, the war ended, leaving Moulton and the Navy recruits and pilots thousands of miles from home with a new goal: bringing the troops back to America.
“They ended up taking the planes off of the aircraft carrier and converting the ship to a troop carrier,” Moulton said. “They took off the turrets and installed cold saltwater showers and latrines for the troops to use.”
Over the next several months, the Bon Homme Richard picked up more than 5,000 troops.
Moulton said that near the end of his time on the ship, troops would wait 12 hours in line for food.
“A lot of the guys would sit and play poker while waiting,” Moulton said. “Some of the guys we had picked up were hardcore. They were loaded with money and had no place to spend it overseas.”
Despite the crowded nature of the ship following the end of the war, Moulton said that he could occasionally find a moment to himself to reflect.
“Sometimes, I’d go way up in the bow by myself, sit on the edge, and look down,” he said. “I’d just watch the water roll off the ship.”
Moulton was discharged from the Navy in 1945 and spent the next few years working in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where his older brother owned and operated a gas station.
It was here he met his first wife. They got married in Valley Forge, he said, and “moved back to Maine, broke.”
Moulton ended up getting a job at L.M. Longley & Son as a plumber.
“At the time, L.M. Longley was still alive, and he interviewed me,” Moulton said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Your hands are too big. You’re never going to make a plumber.’”
However, Moulton proved Longley wrong and worked there for more than 20 years.
“After awhile, I realized there was no future there for me,” Moulton said. “An opportunity came up for me to purchase a small oil business in town: Andrews Fuel. I purchased the business and ran it until 1986. I ended up having the opportunity to sell it and made out like a bandit.”
Around the same time he sold the business, Moulton got a divorce. Shortly after, he met Rose.
“She saved me,” Moulton said, choking up. “She was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Rose Moulton, sitting across from her husband in their home on Ralph Richardson Road, said that “when most people retire, they say, ‘I have nothing to do now.’ That’s not the case with Ralph.”
“Ralph is a man of many talents, and he’s certainly stayed busy since retiring,” Rose continued. “He works with wood a lot and can repair almost anything. He likes to build little rock walls, and to hunt and fish. He’s very talented and has stayed busy.”
Rose said that 18 years ago, the Norway American Legion established the Veterans Memorial Park on Main Street, across the street from the American Legion building.
“Ralph was one of the people from the Legion who worked up there, laying down the pavement and helping develop the park,” Rose said. “After the stone work and everything else was finished, I thought it would be nice to add a little color to it.”
She said that she asked permission to bring flowers from home and plant them at the Veterans Memorial Park, and for the last 16 years, she has planted and tended to the flowers that grow there.
“There were other members of the Post, such as Ralph and Arnie Pendexter, who helped lay down the mulch and prepare the park, but it was me who tended, planted and chose the flowers,” said Rose.
About a month ago, Rose said that Hale approached her and Ralph about serving as the grand marshals of the annual Memorial Day Parade.
“I know that Sharon asked Ralph to be grand marshal because he is a World War II veteran, and I think they asked me to do it too as a thank you for the time I spent working on the garden,” Rose said. “We would like to say thanks to Sharon for giving us the honor of being the grand marshals. Her kindness is much appreciated.”
Both Ralph and Rose said that they’ve been able to stay happy throughout their marriage and their lives by staying busy and following the most important rule of all: the golden rule.
“I think if you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you can live a happy life and a long life,” Ralph said.
Rose smiled and added, “We’ve been blessed, and life is good.”