Col. Harold Ivan Pitchford, 83, a retired Army officer who served in three wars, died at his Fairfax City home Oct. 12 of glioma, a type of brain tumor.
Col. Pitchford was born in Alameda, Calif., and raised on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, where his parents owned a paint store. He often described the Hawaii he knew as a boy as a tropical paradise almost unscathed by the modern world. He wore no shoes until the Army put him in combat boots during World War II, and he liked to reminisce about boyhood days -- when school would be let out when the surf was up and he and his buddies leapt off high cliffs into deep, soft dunes at the beach.
As a youngster, he sold orchids to tourists, and as a teenage diver, he made extra spending money setting sticks of dynamite in Pearl Harbor's coral reefs in preparation for dock and harbor construction. He, and not a native diver, got the job, he told his daughter, because his pale skin blended into the white coral and white sand of the ocean floor, making him less conspicuous to curious sand sharks plying the harbor.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he happened to be back on the mainland but quickly returned to the islands and enlisted. The Army taught him English -- he had grown up speaking only Japanese and pidgin English -- and trained him to be a map interpreter with the U.S. invasion force. When Japan's surrender made an invasion unnecessary, he became a war crimes interpreter stationed in Japan. He was also fluent in Russian and spoke some German.
Col. Pitchford stayed in the Army after the war and attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in language arts. He served as an infantry commander in Korea, where, the tropical islander recalled, he had never been so cold. In the 1960s, he served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Military Police officer. He retired in 1976.
In 1976, after more than 30 places of residence during his military career, he settled with his family in Fairfax and became a counselor at the Virginia unemployment office. He retired from that job in 1982.
In retirement, he was active with Rotary International. A Paul Harris Fellow, a Rotary honor in recognition of distinguished service, he was past president of the Annandale chapter and was particularly interested in scholarships for exchange students. He and his wife also sheltered clients of a nearby women's clinic who were verbally abused and occasionally physically attacked by abortion protesters.
He made regular visits back to Hawaii and enjoyed playing golf and cribbage and spending time with his large family.
His wife, Shirley DeGraff Pitchford, died in 1997. A daughter, Christine Salter, died in 2003.
Survivors include eight children, Evie Curtis of Overland Park, Kan., Susan Stewart of Atlanta, Peggy Pitchford of Denver, Harold Pitchford of Augusta, Ga., Barth Pitchford of Fairfax City, John Pitchford of Herndon and Bill Pitchford and Donald Pitchford, both of Pleasanton, Calif.; a brother; and 12 grandchildren.