Bellingham man spent WWII ferrying the wounded and the dead

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 10, 2013 

Joe Hanson

Joe Hanson of Bellingham during in the U.S. Maritime Service soon after World War II.

NONE — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERAL

In 1942, while still in high school, officers from the Washington State Guard came to Bellingham High and asked for volunteers to replace the National Guard who were called to service.

We assembled at 7 every Monday night. We marched and did close-order drill until 10 p.m. We had a firing range in the basement, where we spent many hours firing .22 rifles at targets. Our firearm issues were 12-gauge over-under shotguns.

We also participated in some parades, field trips and military funerals. Twice a month we had non-commissioned officer school. On several occasions former local National Guardsmen returning from the war would come and talk to us. They really had a rough time there. The State Guard was all-volunteer, absolutely no pay, but good training.

In 1945, after graduating from high school, I entered the U.S. Maritime Service. I received advance engineer training on Catalina Island, Calif. After passing the Coast Guard tests, I was assigned to a hospital ship, the Charles A. Stafford, a steamship. My duty was to make fresh water from salt water for the boilers that turned the water to steam for the steam turbines to run the ship. We also made drinking water.

While in the Philippines in Manila Bay, we were anchored waiting for dock space and the Army to ready a full load of wounded servicemen. I spent Christmas and New Years in Manila.

While in Manila the medical staff arranged a trip for us to visit the island of Corregidor. The most important thing that I experienced was where we had the Japanese soldiers imprisoned. I walked up to the fence and the POWs looked to be very well fed and comfortable in their surroundings.

By having the camp on an island they were safe from the civilian population, who would have liked to get even for the cruel treatment they experienced from the enemy. The United States returned them safely to their homeland.

When we were finally ready to leave, I watched as the wounded U.S. soldiers came up the gangplank. Most came under their own power but many were with crutches, some amputees, and quite a few on stretchers. We also had a morgue for the deceased.

We then headed to the island of Eniwetok, where we took on fuel from a supply tanker. After leaving there, we were in a typhoon that lasted about 24 to 36 hours. We then had engine trouble and stopped and drifted for about 12 hours to repair the engine.

Underway again, we had a patient jump overboard. Somebody saw him go overboard and we immediately went into man-overboard maneuver. We searched until dark but were never able to find him.

Several days later we arrived in Los Angeles in the morning and there was a brass band on the dock playing "California Here I Come." Most of the men were so happy to be on American soil that they had to touch the ground with their hands.

- Joe G. Hanson, Bellingham

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