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Lt. Marvin Metzler stands as ramrod straight at 90 as he did at 17 when he joined the U.S. Navy on July 7, 1937, four years before the United States entered World War II.

By the time his first hitch was over, the United States was at war and he spent another five years on Navy cruisers in the South Pacific, surviving five major battles.

The self-taught draftsman, who now lives at Westpark Village Retirement Community in Billings, turned his war memories into an incredibly detailed map of the major Pacific sea battles. A copy of Metzler's work hangs in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and President George H.W. Bush, a Navy aviator, has a personal copy.

"He wrote me a thank you note for the map. He was the one shot down in World War II," Metzler said.

A plane Bush was flying was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944.

The map, which details U.S. and Japanese ships in the major battles, took Metzler, a radioman, 2-1/2 years to draw.

And the map sparked an idea for Cathy Shannon, who is in charge of activities at Westpark Village.

"It brought back a lot of memories for residents here and they started telling their stories," she said.

So, she collected wartime photos and current photos, uniforms, metals and other memorabilia from the other 28 men and women living at Westpark who served in WWII and compiled a large display. The veterans were honored during a luncheon Thursday.

Pointing to the Battle of Cape Esperance near Guadalcanal in October 1942, Metzler recalled the war getting personal when the enemy shot up his ship, the USS Salt Lake City, with 5- and 8-inch guns.

His older brother, Larry Metzler, was at the tip of a mast in a conning tower reporting the battle action.

"Here are the Japanese ships coming at us," Metzler said, pointing to a battle scene. "An 8-inch shell hit the deck, blew fragments up the mast and killed the chief fire control man right beside my brother. Larry had to take over the 8-inch gun, and he got a Bronze Star for it."

The USS Salt Lake City lost five men in that battle but probably stopped the Japanese from severely damaging the nearby USS Boise, Metzler said. He also sailed on the USS Santa Fe, a light cruiser.

Other highlights of his naval career included joining in the bombardment of Okinawa, Tokyo and Iwo Jima, and transporting President Franklin Roosevelt through the Panama Canal.

The Fresno, Calif., native married Venita Wilson in 1943 and spent his career as a draftsman at the California Department of Transportation.

Their son, Mike Metzler, and his wife, Carol, convinced Marvin and Venita to move to Billings three months ago. They also encouraged Marvin to display his map, which he sells, for Veterans Day.

Having two brothers enlist in the Navy in the 1930s was not a coincidence, Carol Metzler said.

"They could get food all the time on the ship because it was the Depression and they were hungry," she said.

The Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and that December, after nine years in the Navy, Metzler's ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in time for him to head home to Fresno for the holidays.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com of 406-657-1306.

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