KITTERY POINT — For years, Graham Alvord has tackled the New York Times daily crossword, which rises in difficulty until reaching its biggest challenge on Sundays. At 102 years old, his mind remains sharp, but the puzzle is winning.

“I still look at ’em,” Alvord said in a soft, raspy voice. “I can usually do Monday and get about half of it, then maybe a third of Tuesday and maybe a tenth of Wednesday. If I get anything at all in the others, it’s remarkable.”

Asked about the Sunday crossword, Alvord shook his head in mock disgust.

“That’s a sonofabitch,” he said, and grinned at the off-color term coming from the mouth of a former teacher, guidance counselor and lay minister.

Graham Alvord, a World War II veteran born in 1916, was a naval officer was involved in the D-Day invasion of France. Photo by John Ewing

The remarkable life of this World War II veteran began in 1916 and includes encounters with such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II and Barack and Michelle Obama.

Alvord lives in Kittery Point, not far from the First Congregational Church, where a stage bears his name and where his grandfather, Rev. John Graham, delivered sermons for a decade beginning in 1921. That’s when Alvord first visited Kittery, as a 5-year-old. He grew up in Massachusetts but spent much time in Maine visiting his maternal grandparents.

A precocious child, Alvord began first grade at 4. At 16, he matriculated at Harvard, but dropped out after losing interest in his major, Latin. He learned stenography and worked in Boston for two years, then returned to Harvard and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, with honors.

Alvord found work in Washington D.C. and became interested in theater. He wrote plays, directed them and tried acting.

His older brother, John, joined the Marines in 1937 and became an aviator. In 1941, Graham “thought it was time for me to participate in the war” and enlisted with the Office of Naval Intelligence, which sent him to Puerto Rico for two years of training. Subsequently, he became a lieutenant commander and the executive officer – second in the chain of command to the captain – of a Landing Ship Tank (LST), designed to carry and deliver vehicles, cargo and troops directly onto shore without need of docks or piers.

Graham Alvord said it was while leaving Omaha Beach that he saw a vision in the sky exhorting him to marry Jean Drake. They raised six kids together in Kittery. Jean played viola in the Portland Symphony Orchestra for 46 years. Photo courtesy of Graham Alvord

“They built about a thousand of them,” he said. “We joked about LST meaning Long Slow Target.”

On June 4, 1942, John Alvord’s plane was shot down by the Japanese in the Battle of Midway. His body was never recovered. Two years later, Graham took part in the D-Day invasion, with 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops landing on five beaches along the coast of Normandy.

The day before leaving England, as supplies were being loaded, an entanglement with an anchor of LST No. 133 threatened its mission. Fortified only with a diving mask, a bathing suit and “strong drink, to keep me able to talk,” Alvord plunged in and helped clear wires from the chain.

Alvord’s LST is believed to be the first to reach Omaha Beach the next morning. It immediately returned to England and made a second crossing, then a third. Halfway across the Channel on its third trip to Normandy, the ship struck a mine. The explosion killed four U.S. sailors and 11 British soldiers and knocked out the engines, necessitating a tow to France to unload the remaining troops.

Alvord remained with his ship as it was towed back to England, and eventually to New York City. Once fully restored, the LST saw further duty in the Pacific Ocean but no longer with Alvord, who completed his active service with four months of shore duty in New Orleans.

Graham Alvord was a lieutenant commander and the executive officer of a Landing Ship Tank, designed to carry and deliver vehicles, cargo and troops directly onto shore without need of docks or piers. His LST is believed to be the first to reach Omaha Beach on D-Day. “We joked about LST meaning Long Slow Target,” he recalled. Staff photo by John Ewing

Alvord said it was while leaving Omaha Beach that he saw a vision in the sky exhorting him to go home and marry Jean Drake, who had been corresponding with him throughout her college years at Smith after a mutual friend put them in touch while he was in Puerto Rico. They made a life together in Kittery, raising five boys and one girl. Jean played viola in the Portland Symphony Orchestra for 46 years. Graham became a teacher and guidance counselor at Portsmouth High School in New Hampshire and stayed there 35 years.

His next chapter involved lay ministry in the United Church of Christ. He performed marriages, conducted burials and delivered sermons into his 80s. An avid hiker, he climbed every 4,000-foot peak in New Hampshire twice.

“Once in the summer,” he said, “and once in winter.”

At 78, he started writing sonnets and wound up with 166. He said he has been writing poetry off and on since his teenage years.

He spent 16 years in the Naval Reserves following his four years of active duty. He later taught part-time at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and became a Coast Guard commander.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was president when Alvord enlisted – “I liked him very much” – and because Eleanor Roosevelt’s sister-in-law lived in Kittery Point, Graham and Jean Alvord met the former first lady at a local party a few months before she died in 1962.

“She was an old lady when I saw her,” he said, “but a remarkable person.”

Alvord estimates he has returned to Europe 10 to 15 times since taking part in the D-Day invasion. His first return visit, as part of a lengthy bicycle trip, included a visit to a cemetery dedicated to the thousands who lost their lives on that June day in 1944.

“I had not anticipated that I would be so moved,” he said, “but I started crying.”

His most recent visit came four years ago for a 70th anniversary commemoration. It was there Alvord, then 97, met the Obamas – “I’m a great admirer of Obama” – and Queen Elizabeth II. French President Francois Hollande bestowed the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, upon Alvord.

“We just had a big job to do, and we wanted to do it,” Alvord said of his D-Day role. “The word isn’t fright. It was keyed up. We were certainly keyed up for hours that day.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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