Dec. 7, 1941 … A day that will live in infamy.— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
A military veteran who witnessed firsthand — and “lived it in color” — the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor shared his recollections of that fateful day 77 years ago during a presentation in Fort Atkinson on Friday, Dec. 7.
World War II U.S. Navy veteran Stan Van Hoose, 98, of Beloit, was aboard the battleship USS Maryland when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, propelling America into World War II.
Van Hoose not only survived the Pearl Harbor attack, but six other subsequent battles, as well.
Not as fortunate were the more than 3,500 troops and civilians who were casualties of that war, including 2,000-plus from the U.S. Navy alone.
Van Hoose was joined for the presentation at the Dwight Foster Public Library by his best friend, World War II U.S. Navy veteran George Olson, 92, also of Beloit, whose story undoubtedly is equally compelling since he is a survivor of six battles in the South Pacific theater, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The Spare Parts Quartet provided patriotic musical entertainment by singing our national anthem and the Navy Hymn before the program, which was free of charge to the public. Donald A. Millar, U.S. Marine Corps, and a Korean War veteran from Jefferson County, gave the introductions.
The two veterans’ talk was part of a VetsRoll.org War Memorial Travel Program, the fourth in a series sponsored through the U.S Veterans Project-Library. The project was initiated this year with the objective of providing educational materials to public libraries relating to military affairs.
Mark Finnegan, president and CEO of VetsRoll.org, who moderated the event and shared a documentary on the VetsRoll trip to Washington D.C. May 20-23, 2018, said the two World War II veterans in the room represented “living history” and are “genuine American heroes.”
Finnegan then introduced both veterans to the attendees — many of whom were fellow military vets — who packed the library community room, and shared their backgrounds.
Stan Van Hoose
Van Hoose, who always wanted to be a sailor, enlisted in the Navy on Aug. 20, 1940 — more than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was aboard the USS Maryland, one of the eight battleships that were attacked by the Japanese. It was moored to the USS Oklahoma, which capsized during the invasion.
All eight battleships were damaged, and three sunk, but the Maryland was repaired and returned to service in 1942.
Surviving onboard a battleship at Pearl Harbor is, in itself, an incredible feat, but Van Hoose went on to be involved in a total of seven battles throughout World War II, including Guadalcanal, Russell Islands and Peleliu. He refused to accept a Purple Heart and earned four battle stars for those conflicts.
Additionally, he was engaged in battles at Midway Atoll, the Solomon Islands and Tarawa Atoll, for which he did not receive battle stars, while aboard four different ships. At one point, he served at sea for nearly three years without liberty.
The youngest of five children, Van Hoose was born Nov. 12, 1920, in the poverty-stricken mountains of eastern Kentucky, the son of a coal miner and moonshiner. He ran moonshine for his family as a young teenager during the Great Depression of the 1930s, providing his family with income to survive; yet, to this day, he refuses to drink alcohol.
The coal miner’s way of life shaped his tough, brawny character. His father instilled in him a moral compass that has guided him through life.
Van Hoose’s tough upbringing served him well during World War II, as he became the Pacific Fleet Light-Heavyweight boxing champion and attained the rank of chief quartermaster in just 46 months, specializing in navigation and signal duty.
He met his future bride, Vernie, while in the service and they were married in 1943. After his discharge from the Navy on Aug. 20, 1948 — eight years to the day after he enlisted—he and Vernie moved to Beloit to transition to civilian life.
Van Hoose became a successful paint salesman and Kirby Vacuum distributor.
Sadly, Vernie passed away from cancer in 1998 after 55 years of marriage. Van Hoose remarried in 1999 to Ginny, and they lived happily together until 2014, when she died following a lengthy illness.
It is Van Hoose’s value system that has enabled him always to recognize right from wrong. And his unwavering belief in strength from God and sense of patriotism has led him to serve his country in the U.S. Navy.
As if surviving Pearl Harbor and those other conflicts during World War II weren’t incredible enough, Van Hoose has survived a quadruple bypass open-heart surgery in 2012 at age 91. Today, at 98, he is healthy and medicine-free.
Meanwhile, George Olson, born Nov. 5, 1926, was a World War II U.S. Navy Diesel motor machinist from 1944-46. He boarded the USS Twiggs, a Fletcher Class Destroyer, on Jan. 29, 1945 at Ulithi Atol.
Olson arrived at Iwo Jima on Feb. 16, 1945 — three days before the U.S. invasion of the island, occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army — with three days of intensive heavy shelling. He manned five-inch guns while the ship stayed offshore for 30 days, never anchoring.
He and his fellow troops continuously provided cover for the invading Marines from Feb. 19-March 14 of 1945.
The USS Twiggs was attacked by numerous Japanese Kamikaze planes and had one kill.
Olson and his fellow sailors returned to Ulithi Atol for two weeks of rest, then shipped out for the island of Okinawa, arriving March 25, 1945. They shelled Okinawa day and night for six days prior to the invasion on April 1, 1945, which was Easter.
After the first week, they became part of the defense radar picket line encircling the island approximately 50 to 70 miles offshore.
Olson and his comrades were targets of Japanese Zeroes and, on April 28, their ship and three others were attacked by 12 Kamikazes. Three Kamikazes broke through to attack the USS Twiggs, which managed to shoot two down and strike the third; however, the third crashed into the starboard side and left a 20-foot hole in the ship.
The attack killed 10 and wounded 15 aboard the Twiggs, but the ship limped along to a repair site, was patched up and sent back to the picket line with 20 rookie replacements.
On the evening of June 16, 1945, a Japanese torpedo plane snuck through the radar and torpedoed the USS Twiggs — carrying a full load of fuel and ammunition — hitting the forward magazines and creating a tremendous explosion. The front half of the ship caught fire and bent up at a right angle to the rear of the ship.
That same plane, meanwhile, circled back and crashed into the No. 3 five-inch gun, above quarters. As the ammo exploded, rescue ships could not close in, and the Twiggs sank in less than an hour.
Fatalities totaled 126 of the 300 crewmen and 18 of the 21 officers, including the Commander George Phillip Sr. The other three officers were seriously wounded, as were 26 more of the crew. Four other destroyers sustained even worse damage.
The remaining crewmen were trapped below deck, only escaping through one final shaft when another huge explosion rocked the ship and caused the tail to go up at a 45-degree angle.
As the ship rolled onto its side, the three remaining crewmen were crawling on a ladder, sideways, to the escape hatch, which now actually was on the side. Once Olson got his head and shoulders through the hatch, the rush of air from below blew him out like a cork and the ship went directly down, with the two other men still inside.
Olson said he was fortunate enough to land in an area that was not on fire from oil and debris, but he had no life jacket. He held onto some floating debris for approximately 30 minutes and was rescued by another destroyer.
He was the lone survivor from that section of the ship.
In total, there were 188 survivors with 152 dead and missing in action.
Olson later learned that his skipper was scheduled to announce that their duty was over, and they were to return home the following day, June 17.
The Twiggs fought at Okinawa for 2 ½ months, and that battle was the deadliest in U.S. Naval history, with nearly 11,000 casualties, including more than 5,000 killed in action/missing in action.
One hundred-twenty-two of the 200 destroyers were damaged, mostly by Kamikazes, with 41 sunk. In total, more than 360 American ships were damaged and nearly 800 aircraft were lost. The USS Twiggs was credited with five aerial kills.
Olson also was a participant in the inaugural VetsRoll trip to Washington D.C. in May of 2010.
Van Hoose was asked how often he thinks about Pearl Harbor.
“That day is very plain to me,” he stated. “For some reason, that action never goes away for me. I forget so many things, but my life in the Navy was the proud thing of my young life.
“And, my mother had a fit (over) my going in (enlistment),” Van Hoose added. “She wanted me to get a job in the coal mine and take care of her when my dad died and she got old. And, I said, ‘Mom, you’ve got another son that’s a coal miner, and I don’t intend to be any place in Kentucky. As soon as I’m out of high school, I’m going into the Navy. I want to see the world.’
“I told my wife when I proposed to her that I was going to be a 20-year man in the Navy,” the veteran added. “Because I like traveling, and I like to change ships to go to different places, and I’ve seen most of the world — and most of the girls in the world. I really enjoyed it.”
He said he and his first wife celebrated 54 years of marriage before cancer claimed her, and that they had “no quarrels.
“I think the Navy was the most educational thing I’ve ever had,” Van Hoose said. “Because I’ve seen so many people, I’ve seen so many friends. I’ve seen so much of life that God gives to people. I think this world is a wonderful place.
“But what is happening (politically) now I don’t like,” the veteran observed. “I think God meant for man to have a home, have children, and have a good life while working and contributing to others.”
He said he regrets that his first wife could not bear children and miscarried.
“Her father let her work on a farm,” Van Hoose said. “Her insides got so tough she couldn’t have a baby.”
While growing up in Kentucky and later in the Navy, he said, he “was pretty rough.”
“I didn’t bother people if they didn’t bother me,” Van Hoose stated. “I boxed a little bit and I stopped doing that when the war was over with because they (rivals) would end up in the ditch.”
He recalled once being on the deck of the USS Maryland when a guy kicked him because he was “goofing off.”
“When I spun around to see where he was, I hit him in the gut with this (hand) and he was ‘put to sleep,’” Van Hoose said, drawing laughs. “I helped him up.”
Soon, several men and the captain were summoned to “see what we can do with this ‘nut,’” he said.
“So, they came down and the captain says, ‘What goes on here?’ I told him, I says, if you do what he did, I’d knock you down.”
The veteran said he told the captain that his father taught him to defend himself.
“‘And, I intend to do that in the Navy,” Van Hoose told the captain. “‘And if that’s the kind of life you want, I don’t want it.’”
The captain, he said, smiled at him, and said, “‘Son, I would do the same damn thing. But don’t do it on this ship again.’”
Van Hoose said he witnessed a lot of people perish too many times.
“And most of them were Japs,” he said, using a term now considered politically incorrect and even offensive in today’s society. “I didn’t start the fight — they did. And what I volunteered for, I did that (combat) to some of them. In the Midway battle, it was all downhill for the Japanese for the rest of the war.”
And what did the living eyewitness to history observe on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack when the smoke was starting to clear?
“It was still a very red place — a lot of blood was pouring, a lot of people were dying,” Van Hoose remembered. “They (American servicemen) got to hate for what the Japanese had done to people, and they (Japanese Army) did that with almost every country they occupied. Women suffered a great, great deal in the Asiatic countries that the Japs won. Women didn’t have a chance.
“When the women passed out, they (Japanese) threw them out to die and put another woman in,” he added. “When we (Americans) took over, we didn’t do that to their people. And their people (Japanese) became pretty nice people.”
The veteran said people have asked him how he feels about personally having committed acts of war against the enemy.
“I said I didn’t do these things just to be evil — I did these things to save our lives and to stop them (aggressors) from taking the lives of our country,” Van Hoose said. “And that’s what we were fighting for.”
Olson, meanwhile, was asked if when his ship, the USS Twiggs, was hit by Kamikazes and torpedoed, was he more scared or angry.
“I can’t differentiate between those two things,” Olson said. “When that happens, something kicks in and takes over. And, it’s just a struggle for life after that happened. That’s all I can say at that point.”
He related the story of when his ship was struck by Kamakazes and sinking.
“When the ship finally started sinking rapidly, there were three of us left in this compartment — it was the last way to get out of the ship,” Olson explained. “And the ladder that went up to the deck was at right angles to the floor — it was like trying to crawl outside of a wall with the ladder. You’d get your hands on the ladder and your feet were hanging down.
“I got up to the hatch, and got my shoulders and my head out the hatch, and the air was rushing out of that hatch so fast because the ship was going down, pushing all the air out,” he continued. “It just blew me out of there like a cork! I landed in the water. I looked around and there was no ship. The other two guys never showed up.”
He recalled the two missing men’s names as Frederick Krause and, ironically, “the other man was also named George Olson.”
“I can’t get them out of my mind — I think about them all the time,” Olson said. “I always wondered what happened.”
Another questioner asked the vets if they were married while off fighting overseas.
Olson replied, “No, I was 17 when I joined the Navy; I was 18 when I was in battle, and I was 19 when I got discharged.”
Van Hoose said, “No, but (I found) my first wife in San Francisco on the dance floor.”
The Pearl Harbor survivor said he has grown remarkably healthy in the years since World War II.
“I’m 98 years old as of last month … and pills make me sick,” Van Hoose acknowledged. “Whiskey makes me sick. And I (quit) them both young.”
He expressed strong disapproval of Americans who do not work willingly or care to serve their country when Uncle Sam calls.
“I think God has given me good-health ways to help him,” Van Hoose said. “Because there’s some people in this world who won’t fight, they won’t serve our country — they don’t give a damn about nothing as long as they’ve got what they want to do. I can’t see why anybody would want to not work and raise a family.”
The veterans were asked if they received a lot of mail from home while serving during the war.
“There were (mail from) a lot of girls in a lot of ports that I danced with,” Van Hoose said, drawing more laughs.
Asked what the feeling of the servicemen and their families was when President Harry Truman announced that the war had ended, Olson recalled: “We were very excited and elated, and glad to know that we were going to be out of harm’s way again.”
When he heard that hostilities had ceased and the Japanese had surrendered, Van Hoose was on shore duty at a Naval yard.
“My wife and I were listening to the radio news, and the announcement that the war had ended,” Van Hoose said. “And we both started dancing. And we were glad the war was over with. Too many people got killed. But more Japs got killed than Americans.”
The Japanese, he said, were oppressed by their imperial regime, and came to the United States, following the war, in search of a better life.
“They came to this country in peacetime because they didn’t suffer in this country,” Van Hoose said. “Like you and I, they had to get a job and earn money. In their own country, they were treated like slaves.”
Today, he said, the Japanese people are like Americans.
“They work and do everything to help make money and help our way of living like we do,” Van Hoose said. “So many people think everything is theirs, and they don’t want to share what they get with anybody else. And I don’t like that at all.”
The two vets were asked what would be the most important message they would like to convey to young people for staying out of a war.
“I wouldn’t invite anybody to stay out of the war,” Van Hoose stated. “This country is ours, and if we let somebody else come in and tell us what to do, and start taking it away from us, they’re no friend of mine. I’ve seen too many men die to not fight for my country. It didn’t bother me at all.”
Olson’s advice was that two opposing countries, or adversaries, must “learn to respect each other, and recognize that people have different opinions.
“Learn to accept their opinions as well as your own,” he added. “Be true to yourself, be thankful and learn to get along with other people.”
One attendee on his question form for the two veterans said, simply: “Thank you!”