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World War II vets recount stories to commemorate Veterans Day

Tracy Ko/Daily
WWII Veterans discuss at a panel in the Union Building on Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Ariana Assaf, For the Daily
Published November 13, 2012

Six World War II veterans, proudly wearing baseball caps and leather jackets adorned with patches, spoke about serving in the U.S. military and returning from service at a Veterans Day event Tuesday evening.

The event, hosted by the University’s Student Veterans Assistance Program, was part of Veterans Week 2012, a program started five years ago to showcase, honor and support veterans affiliated with the University.

At the event, the panelists each gave detailed recounts of their experiences at war.

Bob Davis, one of the speakers, said he was drafted in 1943 after his freshman year at the University. On his first day of combat in Germany, he was wounded and spent the next 90 days in a hospital, but remained with his division until the end of the war. After he was discharged, he looked into continuing his education by contacting an old roommate, who told him they would “put a bed in the closet” for him if necessary. Davis said the gesture was a “wonderful way to come home,” and he returned to the University for his sophomore year before receiving his degree in 1949.

Fellow University alum Bill Rosnya and B17 bomber navigator said he was drafted into the military in high school. He hadn’t planned on attending college, and upon his return he began looking for a job with Ford Motor Company. However, he said his high school counselor told him, “you’re going to Michigan, I’ll take care of it,” and he became the first in his family to graduate from college.

Wendell Galbraith, another panelist, said he was drafted when he was 18 and joined the Army Air Forces, where he was assigned to bomb Vienna. Galbraith’s plane was hit during the attack and he was forced to escape, but he pulled his parachute too soon. He said he spent 35 minutes floating down over the city and landed in the midst of a group of armed German soldiers.

“Twenty-five German soldiers had guns pointed at me,” Galbraith said. “One German solider loaded a pistol, put it to my head, and then put it back. I still don't know why he did that.”

Henry Hoyna graduated from high school in 1941 and enrolled in the Marine Corps the following year. After the Battle of Tarawa, a 1943 engagement over a small atoll in the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hoyna and 2,000 other soldiers departed for Pearl Harbor. When they returned to Hawaii, he witnessed the devastation from Japan’s infamous Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

“It was the most awesome thing,” Hoyna said. “You could hear a pin drop, that’s how much it shocked us.”

During World War II, individuals at the University actively intercepted messages from Japanese diplomats and soldiers, and West Quad Residence Hall was used as barracks for the Students’ Army Training Corps, according to SVAP coordinator Phil Larson.

Larson said more than 400 faculty veterans work at the University and about 275 student veterans are enrolled at the University, mostly from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Larson said the students involved in the SVAP have made great strides in advancing veteran awareness since their founding.

“Before we started, there wasn’t even a flag raising on campus.”