Life in the Army

September 27, 2010
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How many people would be willing to risk their life to defend their country? I know someone who was willing to take that risk. His name is Jerome Hohman. He served during World War II, the bloodiest battle the world has ever seen. More than thirty-eight million innocent people were killed. Hohman was lucky, he lived to tell the tale. He was drafted into the United States Army in November of 1943. He wasn’t discharged until November of 1946. Hohman was only twenty-one years old when he began in the Army. He is now eighty-seven years old and reminisces about his days in the war. Hohman was shipped to a foreign country where the only thing he knew was his mission and the people he came with. He had to adapt to this new lifestyle. Along the way, he learned many new things, about life, about people, and about the world.

Q: What was it like to leave home and what did you miss most?
A: It was tough. I had never been away from home before leaving for the Army. My parents took it worse than I did though. I missed the home cooked meals, all the nice folks around, and my friends. Although most of my friends were also in the service.

Q: Where did you travel while in the service?
A: My parents took me to the train station in Sunman, Indiana from there we were taken to Indianapolis, Indiana. We stayed at Camp Adabury, were all the new recruits are trained. Then I went to Camp Stuart in Georgia, Camp Robinson In Arkansas, Fort Rally in Kansas, and finally Camp Stoneman in California. Then we took a ship called the Stenson, to the South Pacific, where we docked in Lae, New Guinea.

Q: What did you do at all those Camps you mentioned?
A: We trained. It was rough. Sometimes we would take twenty-mile hikes. There was one Infantry course I remember, you had to crawl under barbed wire. You had eighteen inches between the ground and the barbed wire. You didn’t want to lift [yourself] up too high because they were firing bullets right above the barbed wire. I also had to be able to take a machine gun apart and put it back together while I was blindfolded. I had to be able to do this in case I had to repair my gun in the middle of the night.

Q: What was it like coming from the little town of Sunman to all these places?
A: It was kind of scary. All I had ever known was my town of Sunman, so arriving at all these places that I didn’t know was very scary to a little farm boy like me. I had never been farther than a ten-mile radius from my home before the Army. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me or what to expect.

Q: What was the journey overseas like?
A: It was long. It took twenty-one days to get over to the South Pacific. Living conditions were tight. We slept in bunks that were stacked eight high. You had just enough room to slide into your bunk and no extra. I remember everyone always fighting over the top bunk ‘cause if someone in the bunk above you was sick then you didn’t have a good night. Some men were so sick, we teased them about constantly “feeding the fish” with their heads over the railing. Luckily, I never got seasick. I remember one man got so sick, he got severely dehydrated and so weak that he died before we made there. He didn’t make it.

Q; What did they do when an American died?
A; When an American died they were given a burial at sea, in the most literal way possible, because of the island location. One of the three chaplains would come and say prayers and do a small service while everyone stood with their heads bowed. A small chute was attached to the side of the ship and the body was covered with an American flag, no casket, it was held up by a rope. After the prayers, a solute was given and the rope was pulled. The body would fall from the chute into the water below.

Q; What was it like arriving in the South Pacific?
A: I remember the native Polynesian people that lived there greeted us. At first we were weary of them, but they turned out to be very friendly and helpful. For example, the island’s main crops were bananas. And I tell you what, they were the sweetest bananas that I ever tasted, but there were these unusually bright red bananas that tempted the soldiers. When you picked one up the natives would shake their head “No” and lay on the ground. We figured out that this symbolized death by poison. So we steered clear of the red bananas. The natives saved many American lives.

Q: What was your job during missions?
A: I was a sharp shooter. I was in charge of shooting the enemy’s planes out of the sky using a machine gun. The guns had such a loud sound that we were told to keep our mouths open when firing or else our ear drums would burst. The machine guns had such a large recoil that I had to stand four feet behind it when firing or else the gun would knock you down.

Q: How did you know if you got the plane or not?
A: You would see a trail of smoke and it would splash into the ocean usually. Sometimes you would see a parachute floating down, but those men almost never survived. Their burial was at sea.

Q: What did you do when you weren’t on a mission?
A: Sometimes we would spend our time off practicing for a mission. Other times we would head down to the canteen with our friends and have a few beers. We would play cards and do a lot of the same things we do at home. Occasionally we would play pranks on people.

Q: Did you make any friendships during the war?
A: Yes, I met lots of nice fellers. Since everyone was in the same position as me, we pretty much got along. One friend I always remember was Guido Garter. We were the only two German-speaking men in our regiment, so we could talk about anyone or anything without anyone ever knowing. Guido made it home safely, but I never spoke to him after that, I wish we had stayed in contact.

Q: Do you think being the only two German-speaking soldiers had an effect on your friendship?
A: Yes, I believe it greatly affected our relationship. I think it made us closer because we could talk about anything without having to worry about people listening in or ease dropping on our conversation. It was nice having a friendship like that, I think being the only two German speakers definitely made us bond.

Q: How did you get through everyday knowing that your life was on the line?
A: Well at first you thought about it quite a bit, but they keep you so busy that you didn’t have time to think about it. I prayed every night and asked God to keep safe from harm. But after a while, you didn’t really think about it.

Q: How do you feel the war has changed from World War II to the current war we are fighting now?
A: Well, technology has advanced a lot since then. So therefore the equipment that they use is a lot more accurate and more precise. The war today is very different from World War II, the war I fought in.

Q: Looking back, how do you feel about your war experiences?
A: They were something. They weren’t fun for nobody but I wouldn’t give it up for a million bucks, but I also wouldn’t want to go back to it either. I met a lot of good people. For the most part they were all good fellers, but I guess you have that one bad apple in every batch. It’s a damn good experience and it will definitely make a man out of you. It taught me to take care of myself because before I left my mom did it all for me. It teaches you respect and discipline. If someone said jump, you asked how high. You didn’t talk back or ask questions, you just did it. Its not that bad, think about it, free meals, a place to sleep, it has everything you need.

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