Museum Honors Pearl Harbor, World War II Veterans

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Students from Cascade Elementary School scrambled onto the playground in September 1927, necks craned back to see national hero Charles Lindbergh flying over Chehalis during his 48-state tour.

Lindbergh circled the playground twice as 9-year-old Harry Hokanson and his classmates waved wildly to hail the man who flew alone across the Atlantic Ocean that May.

“The world went crazy with his exploit,” Hokanson, now 97, told more than 100 people at the Pearl Harbor/World War II Remembrance Day dinner at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis Sunday afternoon. “I’d already been wanting to be an airplane pilot, so that just enhanced my desire.”

As a boy, he loved reading pulp fiction magazines with exciting stories of harrowing events by American pilots fighting the Germans during World War I. 

“I had to have the next episode because he was going down in flames and you had to know how he got out of it.”

A Navy recruiter in dress blue uniform with gold braids and gold wings on his chest met with Chehalis High School students to talk about the military.

“He immediately dashed my hopes because the Navy required four years of college, and no way my folks could send me to college in those days,” Hokanson said.

While he and another young graduate were working for the summer at an Eastern Washington wheat ranch near Pullman, the owner suggested they register at Washington State College. At that time, tuition was $28.50 per semester and housing in a brand-new dorm cost $35. The young men worked as janitors to pay those fees, and to cover the $29 monthly board, Hokanson said, “I was lucky enough to land a job waiting tables at the commons.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in forestry, he joined the Navy and signed up for flight school, training initially in the Northwest. He shared several stories of his training adventures, piloting a plane with an instructor behind him giving instructions through a rubber tube.

“You can hear surprisingly well with that, but you can’t talk back to him.”

The Navy sent the men east to Chicago and then Pensacola, Florida.

“All the way to Chicago and you know we had quite a time,” Hokanson recalled.  “I’d like to do it again.”

They arrived in Florida as seamen second class, wearing civilian clothes, earning $22 a month.

“As soon as they swore us in, they issued us a uniform and we were designated as naval aviation cadets and the pay jumped to $75 a month. We were in Fat City.”

Hokanson said many cadets who had completed their 20-hour checks purchased new cars from dealerships on credit.

“The parking lot looked like it should have been outside of MGM in Hollywood,” he said. “Nearly all the kids would go down there and buy a brand-new convertible of some kind. I didn’t. I had to send money home to my mother.”

He spoke of flying an old worn-out biplane for his solo check with an eccentric instructor who told him to do violent zigzags while taxiing, beating his hands on the side of the plane, and questioning his every move. 

“The worst part of it was when we went to take off, he rolled the shift stick all the way forward,” Hokanson said. “Well, I could hardly get it off the ground. I had to pull with all my might to get it up.”

He was furious after finally landing the plane but the instructor passed him.

“The next day, I’m taxiing out solo, and here I see this plane going this way and that way, and this guy banging on the side of the plane, so I knew who it was,” Hokanson said.

Another time over Miami oil spewed across his windshield, through the firewall, and over the rudder pedals.

“I didn’t do like they do in the movies — stick your head out and get it (oil) all over your goggles, but I couldn’t hardly see.”

Hokanson served as a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, flying F4F Wildcats and F6F Hellcats. 

After Chip Duncan, the museum’s executive director, introduced him as a hotshot pilot, Hokanson’s first words were: “If my father could have heard that, he’d have been very proud, and if my mother heard it, she’d have believed it.”

The Napavine High School Jazz Band performed and Brynn Garret sang the national anthem and a Christmas song. Also at the dinner, Lee Grimes, founder of the museum, gave commemorative WWII medals to all the veterans and Rosie the Riveters attending, including Hokanson and the following:

• Navy boatswain’s mate 1st class Howard Gage, who served on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor, and later aboard a destroyer’s escort in the Pacific. 

• CPO Aviation Mechanic Bill Furrer, Navy, Pearl Harbor, who served on Ford Island during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in a utility squadron in the Pacific campaign, and on a support carrier in Florida.

• Sgt. Bob Kabel, Army, who was drafted in 1942 by choice, landed in France with the 102nd Infantry Division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war at the Elbe River where he shook hands with the Russians.

• Pfc. Wesley Newby, Army, 84th Division medic, who entered in 1942, served at the Battle of the Bulge during the winter of 1944-45, and earned a combat medic badge and two bronze stars.

• Sgt. Bud Poynes, who joined the Marine Corps in 1942 and served as an aviation mechanic repairing F-4 Corsairs on Guam and other Pacific islands.

• Machinist’s mate 2nd class John Castle, Navy, who served on the USS Leo troop transport attack ship in the Pacific, including at Iwo Jima and in Japan, and brought back American prisoners of war.

• Flight officer Frank Bates, who joined the Air Force in June 1943, serving as a B-24 bombardier at Pearl Harbor when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and later as part of the Japanese occupation forces.

• Pharmacist’s mate Herb Yantis, who joined the Navy in 1943, served aboard a landing craft infantry vessel at Zamboanga province in the Philippines, where the Japanese shot 85 holes into his vessel, injuring five men, and blew up the USS Mount Hood. 

• Tech Sgt. Charlie Berg, Army, 1943, was building bridges in Alaska for supply routes when the military needed Caterpillar drivers during the beach landing at Normandy, where he served with the 341st Engineers.

• CPO Motor Machinist Leland Davidson, Navy, who served from 1940 to 1946 on the USS Saratoga in the Pacific campaign and participated in the bombing of Rabaul.

• Pfc. David Litz, an Army infantry mortarman who served in the occupation forces in Germany, was taking his physical May 8, 1945, when the Germans surrendered.

• Seaman 2nd Class John Hadaller, Navy, from April 1944 to January 1946, served with the landing craft amphibious forces during the Okinawa invasion and with the occupation forces in Japan.

• Cpl. Ervin Tonkin, Army artillery, who served with the occupation forces in Japan from 1946 to 1947 and later in the Korean War.

• Ships Cook 2nd Ken Witworth, Navy, who served aboard the USS Nereus, a Pacific subtender, with the Japan occupation forces at Sasebo.

• Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class Eugene Frasier, Navy, served from 1944 to 1946 in the Philippine Islands repairing aircraft instruments.

• Pfc. David Eveland joined in the Army in 1944 and served with the 63rd Infantry Division in Europe that broke through the Siegfried Line into Germany.

• Staff Sgt. Cy Meyers joined the Marine Corps and served in the Pacific, including at Iwo Jima.

• Margaret Shields started working as a mechanic at the Boeing Co. in Seattle in 1943 and later in Chehalis.

• Nelly Eveland worked for Boeing at Felts Field in Spokane building canopies for fighters.

• Helen Holloway, at 17, tested .30-caliber carbines and worked on B-24s, B-25s and B-29s.

• Doris Bier, at 16, worked at the Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot as a mechanic putting together Jeep axles. 

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