One of two WWII veterans in Wauzeka Legion shares his memories

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Bob Hazen is one of only two World War II veterans remaining on the Wauzeka American Legion. He enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 and only served a few years but, at the age of 90, he’s still very proud of his service to this country.

By Correne Martin

Rather than being drafted, Bob Hazen signed up for the Navy in 1944. He was just 17 years old.

His brother George, the first ever Army soldier drafted from Crawford County, advised Bob in written correspondence to join the Navy.

“He said at least I’d have a warm bed and good food ‘til they blew up my ship,” he remembered.

Bob graduated from Wauzeka High School one night and was on the train the next morning, at 5 a.m., headed for Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. He endured only six weeks of training and then went off to California, where he boarded a Navy ship.

“I was scheduled to go to Okinawa (Japan) but, on the way over, [the U.S.] dropped the atomic bomb, ending the war. So I never went there,” he said.

Aboard the 1,500-man ship for the two-week trip overseas, Bob said he cooked for all the passengers three times a day.

“At Christmas, me and another guy made seven turkeys,” he reminisced, fondly.

On their way to Japan, Bob’s platoon ended up in Tokyo Bay, which was safer than out on the ocean during a typhoon that was passing through. He spent a couple months in Tokyo on a troop ship, then was reassigned to a repair ship, the U.S.S. Delta, as a cook. From there, he went up to Shanghai.

“I remember [the Japanese] were afraid of Americans over there. They were scared to death,”  shared Bob, who happens to be one of only two World War II veterans remaining on the Wauzeka American Legion Post. Harold “Sunny” Ray, an Air Force veteran who is also 90, is the other. Both Bob and Sunny were in the same class in high school; they even worked at the local feedmills loading feed onto boxcars together.

“There were eight boys in our class. From the time we graduated through the three months over the summer, we were all in the military,” Bob said, “and we all came home (safe).”

When Bob returned to Wauzeka from his tour of duty, he arrived on the midnight train.

“His mom didn’t even know he was coming home,” Bob’s wife, Pat, added. “He walked into Century Hall. There was a dance that night. He was 19 and they weren’t going to serve him (alcohol) until someone said, ‘He’s old enough to serve his country, he’s old enough for a beer.’”

Back home, Bob ran into Pat, who was three years younger than him. They had known one another from school, but Bob was so into sports that he “hardly noticed me,” Pat recalled.

Three days before the two were to marry, Bob got notice he was to go into the Korean War. However, in a short time, he was notified they didn’t need as many Navy men as the military had originally anticipated.

Since those days, Bob and Pat have been married for 67 years. They have six children, ran a cheese factory in rural Wauzeka for 20 years, and then Bob worked at 3M for 20 years before retiring 27 years ago. The Hazens have lived on Markley Hollow in rural Bagley for 42 years.

Bob has served on the Legion for 62 years.

“[People] never talked about their military experiences much. That’s why they started the Legions,” Bob noted.

During his leisure time over the years, Bob was a member of the West Grant Lions Club for 40 years. He ran softball tournaments in Mt. Hope, Bagley and Bloomington for 15 years.

Ten years ago, he was selected to take the Honor Flight to see the war memorials in the nation’s capital.

“That was so wonderful. They were good to us. The airport was packed when we left and when we got home,” Bob said. “All these people we didn’t know wanted to shake our hands.”

Bob said he’s proud to be a veteran and is pleased when citizens express their thanks for his contributions. But he said there were many other men and women who “saw war” up close. He commends them for their service and sacrifices. He also recognizes that there aren’t too many World War II veterans left these days and he relished in the opportunity to tell his story.

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