Stark County veterans reflect on Okinawa Air Force service
LEXINGTON TWP. – William Hoover’s home is a testament to his love of woodworking.
Nestled in a cluster of trees, the house is decorated with wooden tables and furniture he created in his basement workshop. The 94-year-old has always considered himself a builder and realized he wanted to spend his life building houses while he was still in high school.
âIt wasn’t something that came as a dream or anything. It was just something that I had planned to do,â Hoover said.
This plan would be put on hold in 1945 when the 19-year-old was drafted into the military.
Following:“I was on the front line:” WWII veteran from Stark County shares his experience in Okinawa
Following:Here is the list of Veterans Day activities in County Stark
While serving in the Air Force, Hoover spent nearly a year working at a radar station on a mountain in Okinawa after World War II and wrote letters to his mother and aunt almost every day.
Over 75 years later, Hoover’s daughter uses the letters to piece together a timeline of her father’s military service.
The first years
Born and raised in the Alliance region, Hoover grew up with three brothers and spent most of his early years working on his grandfather’s farm. The sprawling property housed cows and pigs, as well as a variety of crops, such as wheat, corn, and oats.
When Hoover’s grandfather died in 1936, his aunt and uncle took over the farm.
âSomehow I convinced my mom to let me go up there and help them through this transition period,â he said. “I loved animals and everything that was going on on the farm, so I wanted to stay.”
The farm was only a few kilometers from his parents’ house. Hoover lived there as a teenager and enjoyed the work that came with life on the farm.
âIt was a different time,â Hoover said. “I guess today they might say you’re curious. But it really wasn’t that at all. We were worried about our neighbors, and when something happened, we were there.”
He graduated from Alliance High School in 1945 and was drafted into the service that spring as part of the last group of recruits from the Alliance region. Soon after, he traveled to Cleveland for a physical exam and was rated 1-A, meaning he was eligible for military service.
Report for service
In October, Hoover reported to Camp Atterbury in Indiana, where he underwent a series of IQ and aptitude tests. He then traveled to Camp Joseph Robinson in Arkansas for 10 weeks of basic infantry training. After graduating, he transferred to the Air Force and learned he would be stationed in Okinawa.
On April 5, 1946, Hoover and 3,000 other men boarded a ship for the island. Sailing in the North Pacific Ocean, the ship encountered huge waves and harsh weather conditions.
âThe first three days I got seasick,â Hoover said. “Not as sick as some of them. I guess maybe 60, 70% of the guys were sick the first three days, but then we got over it.”
The trip lasted about 30 days. Life on the boat, Hoover said, was unregulated. Some spent the time playing dice or standing on the bridge when weather conditions permitted.
âSince I joined this army, I have discovered that everything could be worse,â he wrote in a letter to his aunt. âI thought when we had two high bunks it was bad. But then on the train we had three high bunks. And now we have five high bunks. It’s definitely a crowded place. There are 800 guys. in the place, 70 square feet. It might be a little bigger, but I doubt it. ”
Life in Okinawa
Hoover’s ship arrived in Okinawa about a year after the island was conquered by US troops. Although the war is over, Hoover said the soldiers were ordered not to leave the camp as traps were still hidden around the island.
âI never got out of the camp, but I think we lost eight guys in traps in our first group,â he said.
Upon arrival, Hoover was assigned to the radar station on top of Yontan-san Mountain. He and a handful of others took turns protecting the island from potential bombers.
âWe had to send the fighter jets to respond to all the bomb raids,â Hoover said. âWe had a 200 mile range on the radar, and we intercepted all the incoming planes. In the control room, we had a big plastic signâ¦ and we had drawn the island and the rays around it. entered that 200 mile range, we plotted until he came out of that area. â
Two soldiers sat on either side of the plastic panel. One watched the sign while the other recorded the movements of all passing planes. The biggest challenge, Hoover said, was that the person responsible for tracking the locations of the planes had to write backwards so the person on the other side could read it.
It was a significant contrast to the work Hoover did on the farm at home.
âThere was nothing at all physical in my job,â he said. “I had a large control panel that I was responsible for, and if something was wrong I was supposed to fix it.”
Hoover continued to work at the radar station until he could return to the United States about a year later.
“I missed the international deadline, it’s amazing, almost a year apart,” he said. “I lost my 20th birthday on the international rendezvous line. I went to bed on the 17th and got up on the 19th.”
“A diary of his life”
When Hoover returned home, he felt a sense of relief and security. It was the first time in nearly a year that he could go to bed without worrying about what might happen while he slept.
âI remember (thinking) ‘Jeepers, it’s so safe,’â he said.
Hoover returned to his work on the farm for several years and then worked on another farm in the area. He married his wife Ruth and had four children.
Throughout his service he had kept in close contact with his family. He wrote letters to his mother and aunt almost every day, even when he was on the ship and he wouldn’t be able to send them until he reached dry land. In his letters, he shared details of his daily experiences, as well as photos of his life at the camp.
âI had a little box, a primitive camera, and we had a guy in the camp who had a darkroom and knew how to develop (photos) and so he developed them for me right there in the camp,â he said. he declared.
Hoover’s aunt kept all of her letters and put them together in a shoebox. When she died in the early 1990s, the family kept the mailbox, but did not. Hoover’s daughter Lorie Miller was sorting through old belongings recently when she saw the box and decided it was time to do something with the letters.
âThey were so cute how she wrapped them in this box and tied them with this string,â Miller said.
She began to read the letters, browse the photographs, and talk to her father, trying to piece together a timeline of her time in Okinawa. Hoover himself did not read the letters, but he remembers many details about his experiences.
Miller estimates that there are hundreds of letters in the shoebox. Reading them allowed him to learn new details about Hoover’s time in the military, from the conditions of the ship to the interactions he had with other members of the service.
âIt’s like a journal of her life there,â she said.
” I like what I do.
Several years after leaving the military, Hoover was able to carry out his house building plan.
He started his own construction company, The Country Craftsman, and built hundreds of homes in Ohio and Florida. He built his last house in 1997, at the age of 70.
He’s not sure exactly what drove him to construction, but he’s always loved the job. On Saturdays, he often went to construction sites to assess progress and pick up unnecessary materials.
âI was coming back from one of those trips to one of these houses and I’m coming by the golf course,â Hoover said. âI see those three or four guys over there, dragging their golf carts to the golf course on a beautiful day like today. The sun was shining. I looked at them and said, ‘You know what? I wouldn’t trade with you guys. I love what I do. ‘”
Hoover even built his family’s home, which is located not far from where he grew up.
âI was born in a house probably less than a mile from here,â he said. “And I’ve been in this business ever since.”
Contact Paige at 330-580-8577 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @paigembenn.