Week-Long Project in Waterloo To Capture Military Heroism
WATERLOO, Iowa - Leonard Hill has had the stories of World War II in his head for nearly 70 years. Yet he didn't get much time this week to be ready to tell them.
"I didn't have time to prepare," Hill, 90, of Waverly, said while chuckling. "About one day!"
Hill's granddaughter, Megan Gates, drove him to the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo on this Wednesday afternoon to share his story.
StoryCorps is working with the museum from September 4-7 to record the stories of dozens of veterans, with a primary focus on "post-9/11 veterans" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's really about bringing families together and giving them the opportunity to ask the service members what it was like," said John White, a facilitator with StoryCorps.
Yet White said all veterans are welcome to share their stories which led to Hill, a Fireman First Class in the U.S. Navy during the war, sitting for forty minutes and talking of his service.
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The story of Leonard Hill and the USS Barb (SS-220) are both fascinating. Hill is still around and kicking while the Barb turned into scrap metal.
Hill has spent 87 of his 90 years in and around Waverly. Yet those three years of service, from 1943 to his return in December 1945, took him all over the world, starting in Farragut, Iowa as a naval training camp that is now a state park.
"I was up in the Empire State Building, the downtown, Boston, Hartford," Hill said of his travels in the Navy while hitchhiking in his sailor's uniform.
"You could put your thumb up like that and you'd get a ride."
The combat theater of the Pacific Ocean became Mr. Hill's home through the treacherous final months and years of World War II.
"Our skipper (Commander Eugene Fluckey) was the best skipper in the Navy. Period. The highest decorated and he deserved it," said Hill. "We could pick up a plane five or six miles away and be in a dive by the time he got here. We practiced, practiced, practiced diving."
In a burst of coincidence, Hill turned 21 on August 6, 1945, the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Eight days later, the news of the Japanese surrender broke as Hill was on Midway Island with the rest of the crew from the Barb.
"I had my tonsils out three days before and us three were the only sober guys on the base that night. Really! A case of whiskey suddenly appeared on the table in our barracks and the guys made good use of it!"
Weeks later, Hill and the crew of the Barb made shore and he spent the fall finishing his naval service. After years of training, combat and traveling, Leonard Hill returned to the simple life.
In December 1945, 22-year-old Leonard Hill returned to Waverly. A single father with a two-year-old little girl. A far different life as he pulled up to his hometown on a bus.
"I couldn't believe things were so dead," said Hill. "A lot of places with a Navy base, there would be places open 24 hours a day. Waverly was just dead!"
Hill's exceptional life then took on the form of steady and strong. He said he worked in town for 41 years before retiring in 1986.
A Note On The USS Barb:
After its commissioning in 1942, the ship sailed the Pacific through the duration of World War II. The vessel was loaned to Italy in 1954 before being sold for scrap metal in 1972.
Hill said he was disappointed about his ship's fate as scrap metal and numerous online articles claim Admiral Fluckey believes had the crew known of the plans to scrap the ship, crew members would have purchased the submarine to serve as a museum.
To Read About The USS Barb:
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