George Hart, a resident at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg, rarely talks about his service in World War II.
“It’s a horrible thing to think back on. I won’t discuss the war with anybody, because if I start talking about it, I cry,” he said.
Hart volunteered for the service. He had been an aircraft mechanic in Kansas City and was hoping to serve in the Air Force. However, the Army had other plans for him. Because he had been in ROTC in high school for three years, they selected him for the infantry. He enlisted on July 9, 1942.
After basic training, he worked his way up the ranks. He spent most of his time training replacements, who would be sent to relieve men serving overseas.
At the beginning of the war, men were trained for specific jobs. Later, commanding officers noted that replacements needed to be knowledgeable in all fields, so they could fill any hole.
Hart helped men learn the art of weaponry. He taught them how to shoot a variety of rifles, machine guns and mortars. He also noted a conscious effort was being made to separate men who lived in the same part of the country.
“They had found out before the casualties were getting too high, that they had to shift the men around.” he said. This prevented one area or state from suffering mass casualties of their loved ones.
Hart turned in one soldier for lying about his age. He pretended he was an older brother. Hart felt this was the right thing to do, because he believed the boy was too young to die.
OFF TO THE PHILIPPINES
Hart was chosen to attend Officer Candidate School. He was discharged from the regular Army on Dec. 13, 1944, and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the infantry for the Army of the United States on Dec. 14. He became the commander of the 618th Ordnance Battalion.
Hart was sent to the Philippines in the South Pacific. He landed in Leyte and moved throughout the islands. The weather took a toll on the Americans. The islands were swampy, because it rained almost every morning. By the afternoon, the sun was out, temperatures rose and winds brought about blowing dust and sand. This caused several men to contract jungle rot and trench foot, an infection of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to dampness.
The Japanese were the enemy. They knew the terrain better than the Americans, so the casualties were high. Hart and his men quickly learned they had to kill or they would be killed. To this day, it is hard for Hart to look back on those times.
He witnessed a lot of devastation on the islands. It was difficult to walk down the streets near the harbor at Manila Bay, because so many planes had crashed — Americans and Japanese. Bodies of dead pilots were everywhere.
KEY TO SURVIVAL
Hart credits President Harry S. Truman for saving his life. The Japanese kamikaze pilots were preparing for battle.
“Each plane was going to be designated to be a dive bomber against our ships and landing forces. So that would have been a holocaust in itself. Just fortunately, Harry dropped those two bombs (on Japan) and that stopped the whole thing,” he said. “So I treat it like this is my good fortune that Harry dropped those two bombs and saved my life.”
Soon after, Hart was taken to a hospital for dysentery, a disorder of the intestines. He spent seven weeks there. He was replaced as a commander and transferred to the hospital corps.
Because he had enough points, he was eligible to return home.
“I served my country, because it was my job. You are serving your country because you are trying to preserve your country,” he said.
He was discharged May 23, 1946. He was awarded the lapel button, Asiatic Pacific Theater campaign ribbon, American Theater campaign ribbon, victory ribbon and two good conduct medals for his service.
Hart was married for 67 years, until his wife died. He moved to the Missouri Veterans Home about five months ago. He is excited the home is building a new chapel and is looking forward to working with younger veterans. He seeks to teach them the importance of faith. He believes that has been a vital part of getting through this experience.