'It's like a journal of his life:' Stark veteran shares service in Okinawa through letters – Canton Repository

LEXINGTON TWP. – William Hoover’s home is a testament to his love of woodworking.
Nestled in a cluster of trees, the house is decorated with wooden tables and furnishings that he created in the workshop in his basement. The 94-year-old has always considered himself a builder and realized he wanted to spend his life building houses while he was still in high school.
“It wasn’t something that came on as a dream or anything. It just was something that I planned to do,” Hoover said. 
That plan would be put on hold in 1945 when the then-19-year-old was drafted into the military.
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While serving in the Air Force, Hoover spent almost a year working in a radar station on a mountain in Okinawa following World War II and wrote letters to his mother and aunt nearly every day. 
More than 75 years later, Hoover’s daughter is using the letters to piece together a timeline of her father’s military service. 
Born and raised in the Alliance area, Hoover grew up with three brothers and spent many of his early years working on his grandfather’s farm. The sprawling property housed cows and pigs, along with a variety of crops, such as wheat, corn and oats. 
When Hoover’s grandfather died in 1936, his aunt and uncle took over the farm. 
“Somehow or another, I talked my mother into letting me go up there and help them during this transition period,” he said. “I loved the animals and all the things going on there at the farm, so I wanted to stay.” 
The farm was only a few miles down the road from his parents’ house. Hoover lived there as a teenager and enjoyed the work that came with life on the farm.
“It was a different time,” Hoover said. “I guess maybe today they’d say you were nosey. But that really wasn’t it at all. We had a concern for our neighbors, and when something happened, we were there.” 
He graduated from Alliance High School in 1945 and was drafted into the service that spring as part of the last group of draftees from the Alliance area. Soon after, he traveled to Cleveland for a physical exam and was classified 1-A, meaning he was eligible for military service.
In October, Hoover reported to Camp Atterbury in Indiana, where he underwent a series of IQ and aptitude tests. Afterward, he headed to Camp Joseph Robinson in Arkansas for 10 weeks of basic infantry training. Upon graduation, he was transferred to the Air Force and learned he would be stationed in Okinawa. 
On April 5, 1946, Hoover and 3,000 other men boarded a ship for the island. Sailing through the north Pacific Ocean, the ship encountered enormous waves and difficult weather conditions.  
“The first three days I was seasick,” Hoover said. “Not nearly as sick as some of them. I would guess maybe 60, 70% of the guys were sick the first three days, but then we got over it.” 
The journey lasted about 30 days. Life on the boat, Hoover said, wasn’t regimented. Some passed the time gambling with dice or standing on the deck when the weather conditions allowed.
“Since I’ve gone in this army, I’ve found that everything could be worse,” he wrote in a letter to his aunt. “I thought when we had two bunks high, it was bad. But then, on the train, we had three bunks high. And now we have five high. This sure is a crowded place. There’s 800 guys in the place, 70 square feet. It may be a little bigger, but I doubt it.”  
Hoover’s ship arrived in Okinawa roughly a year after U.S. troops conquered the island. Although the war was over, Hoover said soldiers were instructed not to leave the camp because booby traps were still hidden around the island. 
“I never did go outside of camp, but I think we lost eight guys to booby traps in our first group,” he said. 
Upon arrival, Hoover was assigned to work in the radar station at the top of Yontan-san Mountain. He and a handful of others took turns manning the station to protect the island from potential bombers. 
“We were to send out the fighter planes to meet any bomb raids,” Hoover said. “We had a 200-mile range on the radar, and we would intercept any incoming planes. In the control room, we had a big plastic panel … and we had the island and radiuses drawn around it. Any plane that got in that 200-mile range, we plotted until it got out of that area.”
Two service members would sit on either side of the plastic panel. One watched the panel while the other charted the movements of any planes that went by. The biggest challenge, Hoover said, was that the individual tasked with tracking plane locations needed to write in reverse so the person on the other side could read it. 
It was a significant contrast to the work Hoover did on the farm back at home.  
“There was nothing physical about my job at all,” he said. “I had a big control panel that I was in charge of, and if anything went wrong, I was supposed to fix it.”  
Hoover continued working at the radar station until he was able to return to the U.S. about a year later. 
“I crossed the international dateline, it’s amazing, almost a year apart,” he said. “I lost my 20th birthday on the international dateline. I went to bed on the 17th and got up on the 19th.” 
When Hoover returned home, he felt a sense of relief and security. It was the first time in nearly a year that he could go to bed without worrying about what might happen while he slept. 
“I can remember (thinking) ‘Jeepers, this is so safe,'” he said. 
Hoover resumed his job on the farm for several years and later worked at another farm in the area. He married his wife, Ruth, and had four children. 
Throughout his time in the service, he’d kept in close contact with his family. He wrote letters to his mother and aunt nearly every day, even when he was on the ship and wouldn’t be able to send them until he reached land. In his letters, he shared details about his daily experiences, along with photos of his life at camp.
“I had a little box, primitive camera, and we had a fellow in camp that had a dark room and knew how to develop (photos) and so he developed them for me right there in camp,” he said. 
Hoover’s aunt saved all of his letters and collected them in a shoebox. When she died in the early 1990s, the family kept the box of letters, but didn’t do anything with it. Hoover’s daughter, Lorie Miller, was sorting through old belongings recently when she saw the box and decided it was time to do something with the letters. 
“They were just so cute how she had them packed in this box and tied with this string,” Miller said.
She began reading the letters, combing through the photographs and talking to her father, trying to piece together a timeline of his time in Okinawa. Hoover himself has not read the letters, but he remembers many details about his experiences.  
Miller estimates there are hundreds of letters in the shoebox. Reading them has allowed her to learn new details about Hoover’s time in the military, from the conditions of the ship to interactions he had with other service members. 
“It’s like a journal of his life there,” she said. 
Several years after he left the military, Hoover was able to fulfill his plan to build houses.
He started his own construction business, The Country Craftsman, and built hundreds of houses in Ohio and Florida. He built his last house in 1997 — when he was 70 years old. 
He doesn’t know what exactly drew him to construction, but he’s always enjoyed the work. On Saturdays, he often went to construction sites to assess progress and pick up any unneeded materials. 
“I was coming back from one of these trips to one of these houses, and I come by the golf course,” Hoover said. “I see these three or four guys out there, dragging their golf carts to the golf course on a nice day like today. The sun was shining. I looked at them and I said ‘You know what? I wouldn’t trade with you guys. I like what I’m doing.'”
Hoover even built his family’s home, which sits not far from where he grew up.  
“I was born in a house probably less than a mile from here,” he said. “And I’ve been in this area ever since.”
Reach Paige at 330-580-8577 or [email protected], or on Twitter at @paigembenn.