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History, community, church among vet's missions

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

James Humphreys of Derry was aboard a Navy ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II when he mailed a letter to the girl he left behind, Phyllis McCracken of Derry Township.

In it, he asked if her minister at Latrobe Presbyterian Church did a good job.

Unable to ask her in person, it was Mr. Humphreys' way of proposing to his young girlfriend, whom he met on a blind date while he was home on leave.

“I married him in his Navy uniform. We had a honeymoon at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh,” and he returned to duty a week after their March 1945 wedding, his wife said.

The couple was married for more than 72 years until Mr. Humphreys' death at home on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, at the age of 95.

Born Nov. 12, 1921, to Davis and Twila Brown Humphreys of Derry, Mr. Humphreys graduated from Derry Borough High School in 1939 and started work as an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Railroad Co., where his father was a superintendent at the rail yard, said his son, Richard Humphreys of Leesburg, Va.

The story about his service during World War II was included in the book “An Honor to Serve” by St. Vincent College professor Richard Wissolik.

Mr. Humphreys served briefly aboard the USS Massachusetts, a battleship, and spent most of his service in the Navy on the USS Fowler, a destroyer escort that protected convoys traveling the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to North Africa.

Richard Humphreys said his father had mentioned seeing several torpedoes fired at their convoys.

When he was discharged from the Navy, Mr. Humphreys joined his father in working for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a locomotive mechanic in Pitcairn. He worked for the railroad until his retirement in 1982.

Mr. Humphreys was civic-minded, serving on Derry council in the 1980s and also as a judge of election. He was a founding member of the Derry Area Historical Society and received the 2012 Pomeroy award for his contributions.

“He was a history buff,” his son said.

A lifelong member of Derry Presbyterian Church, he served as a church schoolteacher, deacon, elder and youth leader who led five mission trips.

“He was one of those members of the ‘Greatest Generation.' He lived an amazing life,” Richard Humphreys said.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Humphreys is survived by a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Derry Presbyterian Church. Interment will be in Coles Cemetery. McCabe Funeral Home, 300 W. Third Ave., Derry, is in charge of arrangements.

Donations may be given to Derry Presbyterian Church or the Derry Area Historical Society.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jnapsha.

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