by Robert A. Waters
While looking through an archive of old newspapers from 1944, I came across many that published stories of local servicemen killed during World War II.
For instance, the El Paso (TX) Herald Post published a list of former Austin High School students who had been killed in action. There were 31 in all: Harold Mosley died during the Battle of Midway; Elliott Holman perished in a “Jap prison camp”; and there was Frank Bomar, “lost in the search for another lost soldier” from his battalion. On and on it went.
The Muscatine (IA) Journal and News Tribune published tributes to 15 local boys who died in action. There was Private Carl Chester Woodworth, who fell in Germany; Private Clarence A. Plank, killed in Holland; and Arthur A. “Bud” Berch, Seaman First Class, who died in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And on and on it went.
In towns and cities across the United States, young men who only a few months earlier had been attending school or college, were arriving home in coffins. The slaughter seemed endless, as entire communities lost a high percentage of their youth.
Each corpse left a story behind. Here’s just one example. On July 5, the Greenville (MS) Delta Democrat Times reported on the death of a local man:
“Capt. William I. Hunt, medical corps officer whose home was 501 Main Street, Greenville, Miss., was killed in action on Bougainville while trying to save a doughboy, the War Department disclosed today.
“Known as ‘Doc’ to his battalion, Capt. Hunt was killed while on a patrol during the first week in June, said an army account from the American Infantry Division on Bougainville.
“He honestly liked to go ‘patrolling,’ as he called it,” the report said. “He carried a heavier pack than any of the rest, merely because he liked to eat—so he took along enough to be able to indulge in a hearty meal.”
In telling of how Capt. Hunt was killed, the War Department document read: “Before that last patrol he remarked, ‘It will do me good. I'm getting out of condition.’”
“The patrol had been ambushed by the enemy and Doc was trying to crawl to the aid of an enlisted man who had been badly wounded. To his mind it was a simple matter—a man was hurt and needed his professional attention immediately. He died trying to save the doughboy.”
The Greatest Generation, it was called. And maybe it was, even if half of them died.