Veterans tell students about World War II
WILLMAR -- Willmar eighth graders got a little help understanding World War II last week from two people who were actually there. Frank Wilkins, an Army infantryman in Europe, and Bill Hogan, who served on a destroyer in the Pacific, spoke to soc...
WILLMAR -- Willmar eighth graders got a little help understanding World War II last week from two people who were actually there.
Frank Wilkins, an Army infantryman in Europe, and Bill Hogan, who served on a destroyer in the Pacific, spoke to social studies classes about their experiences in the war and about the sacrifices people made on the home front.
Wilkins was with the Army's 45th Infantry Division, based in Oklahoma. He served in Italy and France, leaving after Christmas in 1942 and coming home just before Christmas in 1945.
"I left at 18 and came home at 21," he said. "I felt I was the same; everything else had changed while I was gone."
Hogan was a cook on the destroyer USS Renshaw from late 1943 into 1947, a total of three years and three months. He was on the ship when President Harry S. Truman rode on it to review the ships on Navy Day in New York Harbor in October 1945.
Students smiled at his stories of serving 300 people meals a day out of an 11-by-15 galley.
The cooks did their best with dried foods, near-rotten mutton from Australia and a seemingly endless supply of pineapple, but "we were called everything," Hogan said.
The veterans' tales of combat and of warplanes filling the sky helped make World War II come alive for students born nearly 50 years after it ended, their teachers said.
"They liked (studying) World War II a lot," said teacher Todd Hagen. "Now they know more about it."
Teacher Suzanne Nelsen said the students are curious about Hitler and want to try to understand what happened and why.
"It's such a huge event, and they want to know more about it," she said.
In a late morning class, student Gabe Turner was full of questions for the men. He had questions about how people from different braches of the service interacted -- "We were all in the same boat," Wilkins said -- and talked about the types of planes used.
After class, Gabe said his grandfather was a gunner in a plane during World War II.
"I love hearing the stories," he said. "My grandpa, whenever I'm there he tells me stories."
Gabe said he is a member of the Civil Air Patrol and plans to become a Marine aviator.
After his day with the eighth graders, Wilkins said he told the students where he had been, but didn't get into specifics about what he faced in combat. "You can't get into detail on a combat basis," he said.
Hogan's ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo, killing 19 men and injuring nearly 30. Naval officials planned to sink the ship, but its skipper fought it. He said he and the crew would go down with their ship if the Navy sank it.
So, the Renshaw was repaired. When President Truman heard the tale, he asked to ride on the Renshaw to review the ships in New York Harbor, Hogan said. The ship served in the Korean and Vietnam wars before it was decommissioned and then sold for scrap in 1970.
It was good for the students to learn about the sacrifices made on the home front during the war, Wilkins said.
"One of the big things about the war is that everybody was in it," he said. "Today, we're in a war, but nothing has changed at home."
Both men had other family members in the war. Wilkins' father served in the Navy in the Pacific, while he was in the Army in Europe. Hogan's four brothers also served.
"My mother wrote to five boys," he said. "She wrote every week, and she was the best letter writer in the world."