- By Ellen Sussman Special to the Green Valley News
When Honor Flight Southern Arizona leaves on its 19th trip from Tucson to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, it will be the first time Korean War veterans will join World War II veterans on the all-expenses paid trip to see the memorials built in their honor.
Five veterans from Green Valley and one from Tubac will be part of a contingent of 25 from greater Tucson consisting of 10 World War II and 15 Korean War veterans. Here are brief bios, starting with the WWII veterans.
Harold “Hal” Willoby, 89, from Green Valley, served in the Navy from January 1944 to May 1946, and was attached to a Marine battalion as a ship-to-shore radio operator.
He was in the Philippines when the atomic bomb was dropped.
“There was elation and tremendous relief, but then we wondered, what’s going to become of us?” he recalled.
“We had practiced for landing in Japan but didn’t have to do it.”
Beyond the relief, Willoby remembers three violent typhoons in the Philippines, Okinawa and Shanghai.
Tubac resident Dana Long, 88, served in the Navy from September 1944 to December 1946. Part of a training crew, his service was in the states. Much of it was spent at the Banana River Naval Air Station in Brevard County, Florida, now Patrick Air Force Base.
One major event stands out during his service there.
“We lost five torpedo bombers in December 1945 over Fort Lauderdale; 27 men were killed. We were involved in the search and went halfway to the Azores. Then a search plane blew up. The five planes were never found; they were lost in the water.”
Long believes that since the war had ended and there had been many tragic stories, the lost planes only made news in Florida and was treated as a training exercise gone wrong.
His son Steve, 65, is flying in from California to be his Honor Flight guardian.
Army infantryman Joe Trujillo, 89, clearly remembers his Army service from May 1944 to May 1946, and his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive.
Dec. 17, 1944, is a date that stands out. It's when his involvement in the attack began. It wasn’t long before his hands and feet were frozen and he was hospitalized for a month nearly facing amputation of his left foot due to lack of circulation. But doctors brought him through the brink and saved his foot.
“I was 18, single and very lonely,” Trujillo said, adding he had been a good baseball player at Tucson High School. His coaches had wanted him to go to the University of Arizona but the draft called and after his release he was unable to play.
He learned about Honor Flight while shopping with his daughter Diana Trujillo at Fry’s. A woman saw his World War II veteran’s cap and thanked him for his service. She had lived in Luxembourg during the war. Diana will be his guardian.
Donald “Don” Kruper, 86, is a Korean War vet who served in the Navy from June 1948 to June 1952. He had assignments as a dispensary corpsman in surgical wards and as an operating room technician in Naval hospitals in Philadelphia, Boston and Charleston. Nine months were spent at a small Naval base in Grondal, Greenland, with 125 men. There were few surgeries but the team always had to be ready.
Kruper remembers one night when the man in charge of entertainment got ahold of a weapon — a fire ax — and Kruper was sent over to calm him.
“I talked him into letting me inject him with Amytal (to sedate him) and I sat and talked with him. He laid the weapon down. I remember this as the only incident of my life being in danger.”
Kruper’s son Curtis, who served in the Gulf War, is coming from Boulder, Colo., to be his guardian.
Francis “Bill” Powers, 83, served in the Navy from March 1949 to May 1956. His service was in the states and the Caribbean, and wasn’t without its hazards.
Assigned to the USS Livermore as a gunners mate, Powers clearly remembers July 30, 1949.
“An ensign ran the ship aground in Buzzards Bay, Mass., south of Cape Cod. during a training cruise. It was towed back to Boston the next day. I was thrown against a steam pipe and hospitalized for a few days with second-degree burns,” Powers recalled.
The USS Livermore also served in the Pacific during World War II and was named in honor of Samuel Livermore, the first naval chaplain to have a ship named in his honor.
James “Jim” Robbins, 88, served in the Army infantry from October 1951 to October 1952. His service was spent in New Jersey, Maryland and the San Francisco Bay area.
A standout memory for Robbins was interviewing returning POWs with another soldier, which he described as “not fun.”
“We were looking to see if any American had been turned to sympathize with the enemy. None had. Questions included, ‘What was your life like in prison camp?’ and, ‘How did you make it easier?’”
Robbins said the Korean winters in the early 1950s were especially frigid with temperatures well below freezing. Returning POWs reported they would do anything to stay warm.
Honor Flight Southern Arizona is accepting applications from World War II and Korean War veterans. World War II veterans have priority. For an application, go to honorflightsaz.org.
Contact Green Valley freelance reporter Ellen Sussman at email@example.com.