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World War II vet still fit enough for a Jingle Bell jaunt

Jesse Webb, a 91-year-old widower and World War II vet, works out six mornings a week at Olympic Fitness in Port Orchard. He plans to participate in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk on Saturday. - Tim Kelly/Staff photo
Jesse Webb, a 91-year-old widower and World War II vet, works out six mornings a week at Olympic Fitness in Port Orchard. He plans to participate in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk on Saturday.
— image credit: Tim Kelly/Staff photo

Of all the teams signed up for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk in Port Orchard, the contingent from Olympic Fitness is the largest.

And among that group of 80 or so who will show up Saturday wearing Santa hats, the oldest member is a 91-year-old World War II veteran whose fitness was tested in 1945 when he led his platoon on a post-D-Day trek from the Normandy beach in France to Vienna, Austria.

Jesse Truax might only walk a mile or so of the 5k course, and he might not even remember the Jingle Bell Run the next day since his Alzheimer’s sometimes interferes with his recollection of past events. But come early Monday morning, he’ll be back at the gym for his regular workout, which is how he starts every day but Sunday.

“I go on the treadmill for about a mile and a half, then I come out here and work on the weights,” Truax says while sitting at Olympic Fitness with Dale Messerschmidt, his friend, chauffeur and workout partner who will accompany him to the Jingle Bell Run/Walk.

The two men met in the 1990s at the Port Orchard nursing home where Truax visited daily to care for his wife, Lavretta, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s when she was only 55.

He still lives alone in his house on the west side of town.

“I bought that house when my wife was in the nursing home, because it was close enough for me to walk over there,” Truax explains.

“Jesse came in each morning,” recalls Messerschmidt, a 76-year-old retired international educator who steps in to gently set his friend straight when memory fails him. “And he bathed her, he dressed her, and he fed her breakfast.”

He said Truax, who went to work as a boilermaker at the shipyard in Bremerton after the war, retired to care for his wife after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The couple, who were married the day after he got out of the Army and she got out of the Navy after serving on Bainbridge Island, were able to spend a couple years traveling the country in a motorhome after he retired, and they went on a trip to Europe as well.

Truax, who earned a Silver Star during his military service, says he’s been active and fit most of his life. As a boy, he spent a lot of time hiking in the mountains around his hometown of Casper, Wyo.

“When I was a kid, there were still broken wagons in there,” left behind by settlers traveling the Oregon Trail, he says.

He may go slower than most and might not cover the whole course Saturday on his Jingle Bell jaunt, but the oldest participant still seems to have the spirit of that youth who roamed the mountains and the grit of that lieutenant who led his soldiers across a continent.

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