Harry Chapman, owned nursery, was a POW

July 11, 1995|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Even when the Japanese were starving him as a prisoner of war, Harry Chapman was able to appreciate the beauty of flowers. One of the few bright spots in Mr. Chapman's 45-month ordeal after the American surrender on Wake Island was glimpsing the gardens of the Far East.

"When he came home he dug a pond and built a little Japanese bridge over it with a pagoda," said Lucille Chapman, his wife.

Henry "Harry" Chapman died at a Randallstown nursing home Saturday after a 13-year battle against Alzheimer's disease. In his 75 years, Mr. Chapman had been a Montana cowboy, a Marine, a carpenter and a horticulturist. When the end came, he took with him a love of nature and nightmares of World War II.

"He thought he was in prison camp again," said Mrs. Chapman, who said her husband weighed 89 pounds when the war ended. "He relived it all, poor soul."

A resident of Liberty Road in Randallstown, Mr. Chapman founded Chapman Gardens in 1957 on the same 12 1/2 acres where he made his home. Owning a nursery was a dream he had nurtured since he was a young man, and after his 1946 discharge, he pursued the vocation on the GI Bill.

"There's nothing he liked as much as plants except maybe travel," said Mrs. Chapman, who said she and her husband crisscrossed the country several times, including a trip on the Alaska Highway. "He would work all day on the business and then go and work on his pond."

Mr. Chapman was the youngest of seven children born in Burbank, Calif., to immigrant parents from England. His father left when Harry was a toddler and his mother moved the family to Montana, hoping to find good fortune on a farm. When that failed, young Harry found work on a ranch.

After that, he worked in Thompson Falls, Mont., for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program to ease unemployment during the Depression. His next job also was provided by the government -- as a Pacific Theater gunner in the Marine Corps.

The Marines successfully defended Wake Island, America's most westerly Pacific base, a week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But on Dec. 23, Wake was again attacked. After sinking four Japanese warships, downing 21 enemy aircraft and killing nearly 1,000 Japanese soldiers, the Americans surrendered.

Mr. Chapman and his fellow survivors were not liberated until the Allies won the war. While recuperating at the Long Beach Naval Hospital in California, he was celebrating his 26th birthday when he met Francis Lucille Cox, a Marine aviation machinists' mate from Hagerstown.

"He asked if he could buy me a beer for his birthday," Mrs. Chapman remembered. "I wasn't going to until I saw this W on his uniform and he said it stood for Wake Island. I told him I'd be honored to have a drink with him and I wound up marrying him."

Until then, Mr. Chapman had never been east of Montana. He was willing to try Maryland, Mrs. Chapman said, because "he thought California was already too crowded."

In 1947, while working as a carpenter and learning the nursery business on odd jobs, Mr. Chapman built a house for himself and his bride on Kenwood Avenue in Overlea. In 1957, when highway construction took their property, the couple moved to Randallstown. Mr. Chapman retired in 1982, with the onset of Alzheimer's.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at St. Stephen's Reformed Episcopal Church, 2275 Liberty Road in Eldersburg.

He also is survived by a son, Michael Chapman, who runs the family nursery; a daughter, Nancy Benton of Carmel, Ind.; three brothers, Jack Chapman of Billings, Mont., Charles Chapman of Fresno, Calif., and Robert Chapman of Nevada ; and two sisters, Phoebe Riddle and Beatrice Kinsfather, both of Burbank, Calif.

Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, 1620 McElderry St., Baltimore 21208.

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