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Former career submarine sailor Jack Pressey, one of Sonoma County's busiest military veterans, died in his sleep Saturday at age 88.
“He was pretty much Mr. American Legion here in town,” said Vietnam veteran Joseph Embry, who served with Pressey as a fellow officer in the legion's Santa Rosa-based Theodore Roosevelt Post 21.
Good-humored and affable, Pressey was a key player in the well-attended Avenue of the Flags tribute to fallen warriors that occurs each Memorial Day in Santa Rosa.
“He was the master of ceremonies for as long as he could handle it,” said Tim Maloney, a fellow veteran and a staffer at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, which hosts the annual observance.
Maloney recalled that Pressey “referred often to being a three-war veteran. He took it very seriously.”
Jackson Gilbert Pressey was born in Roseville and grew up there and in Oakland. He was 18 when he joined the Navy in 1942, shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on U.S. forces in Hawaii pulled America into the war.
Pressey applied for and was accepted into the submarine service. “It's quite a physical test you have to take for that,” said friend and fellow Navy vet Bill Stiles of Healdsburg.
Observed Embry, “In those days you were pretty much in a little metal cigar tube, compared to what submarines are today.”
Pressey was assigned to the USS Thresher as an electronics technician and served in the Pacific through most of the war. He met the woman who'd be his wife for 67 years at a USO dance in San Francisco.“We married on Navy Day (Oct. 27) in 1945, that was something,” Edith Pressey said at her home in Santa Rosa.
Her husband received an honorable discharge later in 1945, then was recalled to active duty in 1951. For the next 20 years — through the Korean Conflict, much of the Cold War era and Vietnam — his family moved with him as assignments took him around the country and overseas.
“He just loved it,” his wife said. She, too, enjoyed the military life that took them to San Diego, Boston, Newfoundland and Alaska. “It was a good life,” Edith Pressey said.
She and her husband moved to Santa Rosa in 1971, following his retirement from the Navy at the rank of master chief. His background in electronics helped him land a job as communications supervisor in the dispatch center of the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Pressey also became active in local, regional and national veterans issues and activities, rising through the leadership positions of Post 21 of the American Legion. “I don't think he missed a meeting from the time he joined, years and years ago,” his wife said.
Fellow vet Embry said he knows Pressey was deeply proud of all he did over the years to promote Boys State, the American Legion program that selects high-school boys to learn how government works through hands-on experience in city halls, the state legislature and Washington, D.C.
Also close to Pressey's heart, friends said, was his work in the 40 and 8, the American Legion honor society. Pressey contributed much to the organization's regular flea markets at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building that raise money for scholarships for nursing students at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Pressey last presided over the Avenue of Flags ceremony on Memorial Day of 2011.
“This is the most fantastic crowd we've ever had,” he told a reporter that day as he looked out over an audience of more than 500 people.
His wife said Tuesday his service to veterans was an extension of his service to his country.
In addition to her, Pressey is survived by son Edward Pressey of Roseville and two grandchildren.
There currently are no plans for a memorial service.