Going through our daily routines, sometimes we forget about the sacrifices that the men and women of the armed services make for us every day in serving our country. A few days before Veterans Day this year, I had the honor of sitting down with World War II veteran, Cecil "Bud" Hamilton and listened as he shared the stories of his time in the Pacific. Not only did I get to hear the history of his life, but had the pleasure of meeting a kind and humble man and the honor of telling some of his story.
Born and raised in Hobart, Cecil came from a family of five boys. After graduating high school in 1942, Cecil enlisted and traveled to Great Lakes Boot Camp. Cecil was part of the U.S. Navy stationed in Hawaii before he went aboard the USS Fredrick Funston (APA-89) as part of the 1st Division.
"I was aboard Fredrick Funston. It was a ship that carried boats aboard. We carried ships to the islands. We started from Guam all the way to Iwo Jima, that was our last one. We had 10 or 12 small boats that carried the men to the beach. We would wait and then go back and get our stuff or any of the guys laying around who didn't make it. That was our job," said Hamilton.
The USS Fredrick Funston was an attack transport that traveled along the Philippines Island, going to islands such as Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Luzon, and ending in Iwo Jima.
"We would watch our buddies going out there in these small boats and that was the thing that used to get you. These guys would say 'We're going to go right through there,' as they climbed down the ladder and we would say 'Hurry up back,' with tears in our eyes," Hamilton said.
Cecil shared some interesting documents with me, one which included a captain's message to the crew prior to the invasion of Luzon. It read: "Officers and men of the Fredrick Funston, on the morrow we shall return to the Island of Luzon. I say 'return,' for we held this Island until 6 May 1942 when our small remaining forces at Corregidor were required to surrender to the enemy, an enemy superior in number only. For over two and a half years Japan has maintained control of the Philippine Islands and the time is now at hand for us to regain this territory and hold it against all odds."
While Cecil was in the Pacific, his brother Robert, a medic, was stationed in Germany. "My Brother (Robert) was in Europe. We used to have these little codes my Mom set up for us and while he was in Europe, he was kind of give me an idea of what was happening. Just letting me know he was OK," Hamilton said. All of his brothers were also in the service as well as his father, son and grandson. Both Cecil and his brother are original members of the Hobart VFW.
Cecil shared some very sobering stories of his time in the Pacific, memories that he will never forget.
"We would see the Japanese flying over our ship and they looked like little babies and we would watch them come down and try to hit any ship they could. It would look like a little kid flying a plane. This could have happened to anybody, but when you see something like that happen, it makes you think. It's something you don't forget. "
Cecil's was discharged on April 1, 1946 and would return home shortly after. "I said oh boy, if they say April Fools to me when I'm supposed to be discharged." Hamilton recalled.
After the war, Cecil went on to open a cabinet company. He has even got to meet with John D. Wolf, his ship's chaplain who wrote a book about the USS Fredrick Funston's journey called "Amen! Until Tomorrow: Retaking the Pacific after Pearl Harbor." Cecil still resides in Hobart.
Meeting Cecil Hamilton was a pleasure in itself, for he is a sweet man that was generous enough to share a little bit of his story with me. As the veterans of WWII become fewer and fewer, it is important now more than ever to listen to their stories and keep them going through generations, reminding us of the sacrifices made for our country.