Some of the greatest generation call Sparta home

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    Editor's note: The following article was first published in the Sparta Senior Citizen's Club Newsletter. SPARTA-In 1944, one of them dropped out of high school at age 17 to enlist in the Navy. One became a member of Patton's Third Army and traveled the same route in Europe that his father had taken as a soldier in WWI. Another crossed the International Date Line on a troop ship in 1946 at the time news came that Japan had surrendered. They are seven Sparta seniors veterans of WWII and who recently reminisced about their years in uniform. Their interviews uncovered memories as diversified as their careers in the service to the country. Lou Antonaccio As a child, listening to his father's stories about his travels as a soldier in WWI, little did Lou Antonaccio know that he would cover the identical route through Paris, Rheim and Verdun during WWII. "My father often spoke of the cities he traveled through dur-ing WWI," Antonaccio recalls, "and after we crossed the English Channel, we proceeded east and fol-lowed his footsteps." Antonaccio was inducted at Fort Dix in April 1943. After basic training in Fort Lee, Va., he was shipped to the Mojave Desert in California, then back to Fort Dix for shipment overseas in January 1944. He then began the trip of his father's memories. When Antonaccio arrived in Europe As a member of the Third Army, he landed in Scotland where he remained for six months. Antonaccio said that the best part was the opportunity to see England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. "The experience was worth a million dollars, but I wouldn't want to do it again," said Antonaccio of his years of service. Richard Baldwin Sparta has in its midst a veteran who literally traveled around the world - at Uncle Sam's expense. Richard Baldwin enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940 and sailed three months later from Boston aboard the Queen Mary - Not exactly a luxury liner at the time, with twelve bunk beds to a cabin. The mess lines saw plenty of kidney pies, mutton and marmalade, but the American soldiers soon adjusted to the cuisine of the British ship. Their route took them across the Indian Ocean with hot weather all the way. Baldwin remembers finding a cool spot in the fantail at night and bringing his blankets to sleep with other sailors who were also enjoying the cool breeze. On Pearl Harbor Day, Baldwin remembers walking in civilian clothes to the gate of his post at Rantoul, Illinois. He was stopped by the guard and told to go back and change into his uniform because "We're at war!" That became evident when he worked on B-17s vacated at a hastily constructed air base in Port Mosesby. Baldwin has a unique collection of pictures of all kinds of planes, some with bullet holes in their wings, all memorabilia from the five years he spent in the ser-vice working on heavy bombers. "Learning to associate with all kinds of people taught me to cope with many situations. That's a lesson that can be applied all through your life," said Baldwin of his experiences. Jay Burd Jay Burd dropped out of high school at age 17 to enlist in the Navy. When he reported for boot camp at Finger Lakes, NY, he expected to be the youngest guy in camp. It didn't take long to figure out that there were other 16- and 17-year-old sailors in uniform who had lied about their ages to join. Five months later, he was assigned to the USS Arelia, a cargo ship that car-ried him through the Panama Canal to Hawaii. Then he began a long series of trips to islands in the Pacific, transporting food, troops and equipment. Eventually, Burd earned the rank of Radio Man 1/C. One vivid and shocking memory of Burd ‘s occurred on the small island of Saipan. "We had about 800 Japanese soldiers cornered on a cliff," he recalled. "As we approached, we saw all of them jump off the cliff and commit suicide." After that, the next stop was home. And home meant that Burd returned to finish high school, graduate from college, earn his Master's degree in School Administration from Montclair State University, then marry and father 10 children. Hal Dorn Hal Dorn recalls entering the service in 1943. After finishing boot camp in Manhattan Beach, NY. He spent the next six months at radio school in Atlantic City and then went to a Landing Ship Tanks (LST) training camp in Virginia. Assigned to duty on an LST, Dorn sailed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and through the Panama Canal to Seattle. "I liked the experience of going from Pearl Harbor to many islands in the South Pacific," Dorn said, "taking Navy and Coast Guard personnel from island to island, performing vari-ous duties and ending up in Sassabo, Japan." Going back to Pearl Harbor, then returning to California, the final leg of his cross-country journey home was in a cattle car outfitted with cots that took 10 days. Dorn recalls that Hoboken never looked so good, as when he arrived for his final destination before his discharge. Irene Eldridge Sparta has a WWII veteran in skirts. After graduating from high school, Irene Eldridge worked for an insurance company for several years before enlisting in the Navy in 1939. Her initial decision was to join the WAVES but she soon had the opportunity to transfer to the SPARS, the Coast Guard female counter-part. Her first assignment was at the Coast Guard Station in Cape May. Then she spent three months at the University of Indi-ana for a course in storekeeping. One memorable experience occurred when Eldridge had the opportunity to march in a parade at a sporting event in Yankee Stadium. "I volunteered because you had to have a white uniform," she remembers, "and it was really exciting to see so many people in the stands." Meeting other women from all over the United States was the foundation of many friendships. "One girl had a camera and supplied me with enough pictures to fill a couple of albums," said Eldridge who for many years afterwards served in uniform as a Chief Petty Officer. Frank Richards Frank Richards entered the Air Force when he was 18 years old. His Basic Training was conducted in Miami Beach, Fl., and he was subsequently assigned to the 7th Air Force as a flight engineer. After two years of active duty in the Pacific Theatre, Frank returned to the states in April 1945 and re-trained as an electrical specialist for the B29 aircraft. Although he has many memories of overseas combat, one detail he'll never forget - "It takes 840 pounds of paint to cover the B24 plane." Richards recalls that there were three electrical specialists stationed at Wright Air Force Base after serving in occupied Japan, "when we were offered the option of getting our discharge in October 1945, we all made a very easy decision: Let's go home." Chuck Stone Although Chuck Stone received basic and advanced training as a rifleman, he was lucky enough to be traveling over the International Dateline on a troop ship when Japan surrendered and his destination became the tropical Philippines. Ironically, during the cross-country trip that preceded that boat ride, the soldiers had been issued clothes for "colder climates." Stone recalls that One day, at that final destination, he ob-served a bare-footed na-tive woman and child wading in a small la-goon, collecting leeches in a container. Upon questioning, they explained that they were collecting the leeches for the family's daily food. Stone ran a tent bakery and late one night, he recalls that, "a bedraggled man appeared out of the dark. With sign language, I directed him to a nearby MP post, and a short time later, the MPs reported that a Japanese sol-dier had wandered in and surrendered."