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Save the memories, before they're lost

February 06, 2003

In July of 1942, Speener Hose's parents signed papers so he could join the Navy at age 17.

"I'd have run off if they hadn't," he said with a chuckle.

Hose, a Hagerstown man who's organized events honoring veterans of World War II, including a 2001 parade that drew more than 300 WW II vets, now has a new project.

Hose wants those veterans - and their wives - to share their stories of the war years and how they were changed by the experience.

He's got plenty of tales of his own. A self-described pack rat who saved every list and order he received, Hose has a good recall as well.

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He remembers the day a shipmate got a "Dear John" letter aboard ship, then dived off the bow and got chewed up by the propeller. Or the day he stepped off a ship halfway around the world and found a friend from home standing on the dock.

Then there was the fellow who needed a bath and wouldn't take one, so his mates tossed him in a horse trough, just like in the old Western movies.

Hose knows there are stories to be told from the folks back home, from the women who never thought about working in a factory and ended up building airplanes at the local Fairchild plant.

"They did almost anything a man could do," he said.

The war years were not easy on his parents, Hose said, what with rationing of certain foods and gasoline. Hose said his family made out by bartering with others in their church. Another family made some cash by renting a room to a married couple from West Virginia who worked at Fairchild couldn't get enough gasoline ration stamps to go back and forth every day.

These are stories that should be told, he said, so folks today know what their parents and grandparents had to do.

Once his grandchildren got him talking about his own war experiences, Hose said that he was hooked on the idea of getting other veterans and their families to share. Maybe it will be a book someday, he said.

If determination is an essential ingredient, it will happen.

"I get these notions and I can't stop until I get them on the road," he said.

He's already written his own story.

It describes how the teen was shipped to Solomons on the Chesapeake Bay, where he and others practiced landing troops on the beach - under live fire!

Before Christmas they were in Australia, preparing for the job of transporting soldiers and trucks to the islands of New Guinea and returning with logs, sometimes as long as 65 feet, to build piers.

It was feast or famine aboard ship, with no fresh food for as long as six weeks. Then came a surplus of steak and nothing else, which they ate, Hose wrote, until it turned rank in the tropical heat.

It sounds awful, but Hose said that only the time spent with his family was better.

"We fought each other like brothers do, but cared for our shipmates with our very lives," he wrote.

Hose left the regular Navy in 1946, then spent another eight years in the Naval Reserve. He met his wife at Shenandoah College in Virginia, then managed Acme supermarkets in Martinsburg and Winchester, Va. He returned to the area in the 1960s.

If you'd like to share your story with Hose and possibly with readers in a book, or perhaps on a Web site, send it to Speener Hose, 1031 Hamilton Blvd., Hagerstown, MD, 21742.

He's still working on e-mail, but if you'd like to talk, or arrange to have your material picked up, you can call him at 301-733-6311.

Let me suggest that those young folks who still have relatives who went through World War II should talk to them about the experience and write down what they've said.

I'm sorry now I didn't do that with my dad, but like many veterans, he didn't really say a great deal about it and I didn't press him.

He was stationed on the island of Guam with the Seabees, the Naval Construction Battalions formed because of the danger of having civilian construction workers in war zones. I remember one story in particular.

On the island, in the darkness, your senses could play tricks on you, he said. One night someone who heard a noise fired a shot in that general direction, then the next sentry over began to fire until the whole island erupted as nervous young men pumped round after round into the darkness, until a grouchy sergeant finally called on them to cease fire.

Dad laughed about it, but to be there in the dark, knowing that there were people out there somewhere who wanted to kill you, had to be a nightmare. Remembering such stories is something we all need to do, before we kid ourselves into believing that war is easy, and that only America's enemies will pay its price.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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