Victor Paradis, a Navy master chief machinist, had a knack for turning up at the most dangerous moments of World War II.
He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed the naval base on Dec. 7, 1941. He was in the Navy task force that launched the Doolittle Raid months later, when the United States struck back at the Japanese mainland for the first time.
Paradis fought in the Battle of Midway, considered by historians to be the turning point in the Pacific war. After his ship was sunk from under him, sailors from his ship were rescued by PT-109, the torpedo boat that would later become famous under its skipper John F. Kennedy.
He survived kamikaze attacks and fought in other famous Pacific battles, including Guadalcanal, Okinawa and Bougainville.
Then he returned to Minnesota, got married and lived to the age of 100.
Paradis, of North Mankato, died Feb. 18.
Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Paradis didn’t talk much about his wartime experiences for many years, said his son, Bruce, of Eden Prairie.
But as he got older, he became active in Pearl Harbor survivors’ groups, and the stories came out.
Family and friends will remember him not for his wartime heroism, but as “just a regular guy, a farm kid from western Minnesota who could and would fix anything,” Bruce Paradis said.
A practical man, Paradis joined the Navy before the war started, figuring it was better than being drafted into the Army, his son said. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Paradis was attending submarine school there.
“We said, ‘Why on earth did you volunteer for submarines?’ ” Bruce Paradis said. “And he said it was because they got hazardous duty pay.”
Paradis never finished his sub training; he was sent to join the cruiser USS Northampton, which was sunk by an enemy torpedo late in 1942. Paradis then spent the rest of the war aboard the Wadsworth, a destroyer.
In the Navy, Paradis learned to run boilers and engines. He never went past the eighth grade in school, but his hard-earned expertise led him after the war to a career with Northern States Power, now Xcel Energy.
He retired in 1984 as an assistant engineering superintendent at the company’s power plant in Mankato.
Paradis always had a green thumb, his son said, and was known around Mankato as “the Tomato Guy.” His yields were bounteous and he shared them freely.
He was always available to help his sons with projects such as building Soap Box Derby racers. Tom Paradis, the youngest son, won a regional competition in a car his father helped build and raced in the national Soap Box Derby competition in Akron, Ohio.
Paradis was an avid bowler and golfer, competing in both sports into his mid-90s.
Quiet and good-natured, he had a sly sense of humor, his son Bruce said. After his ship was sunk, the Navy sent him home for a month’s leave.
He turned up unexpectedly on the family farm near Marshall in the dead of winter, having hitchhiked the final 70 miles.
Shocked at seeing their son, his parents asked why he was home.
“Oh, they were sick of me,” he replied, “so they gave me a leave.”
Paradis is survived by his wife of 72 years, Lucille; sons Wayne, Bruce and Thomas; daughter Janice Nelson; 15 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild. Services have been held.