​World War II Navy veteran Joe Dardis has seen a lot of history in his 104 years. Joe was born in 1914. World War I had just begun, the Panama Canal was opened, and the world’s first electric traffic signal was erected in Cleveland. Eighteen U.S. presidents have occupied the White House since Joe was born. He has witnessed dozens of milestones, including the introduction of automobiles, airplanes, radio, TV and the internet.

Recently, Joe’s Hospice of the Western Reserve’s care team honored him with a family birthday celebration and Veterans Recognition Ceremony at his home in Mayfield Hts. Veteran volunteers Ron DeMeza and Jerry O’Malley, both of whom served during the Vietnam Era, read a patriotic passage, shook Joe’s hand and thanked him for his service. His wife of 76 years, Christine, placed a commemorative pin supplied by the Ohio Hospice Veteran Partnership on Joe’s shirt.

Joe entered the military just two months after the couple married, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy and was assigned to a dive bomber squadron aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. The ship's mission was to patrol the shipping lanes between the U.S and Europe, protecting convoys of Allied ships from German submarines and bombers. “There was a lot of danger and risk involved,” he said. “It was a learning experience for me. I learned how to survive.”   

The Dardis family moved from Pennsylvania to the Cleveland area when Joe was nine years old, living first in Little Italy then relocating to the Collinwood neighborhood. As the oldest of nine children, Joe was a major breadwinner and helped support the family through the Depression. In 1945, he earned a scholarship to Fenn College (now Cleveland State University) but turned it down so he could keep working to support his family.

In his 80s, Joe began compiling notes for a book of memoirs he wanted to write and give to his family. His eyesight was failing, so he applied to the Veterans Administration for help. They supplied a special computer so he could work on his book. “It took me 14 months to write it,” he said. “I wrote everything out long-hand and then transcribed into the computer later. And it never failed. I always remembered things in the middle of the night!” Joe enlisted the aid of his nephew to edit the book. He entitled it, “Not Your Average Joe,” and gave it to his family members as a gift on his 100th birthday.

“Joe has a huge heart and is such a loving person,” said his Hospice of the Western Reserve nurse, Cindy Staff. Within two minutes, I fell in love with him.”