In recognition: Grassley presents Victory Medals to two local WWII veterans

By Beverly Van Buskirk-
It has been 65 years since two Plymouth County men saw each other after attending boot camp in Idaho.Wednesday, the two World War II veterans were honored for service to their country.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley presented Robert L. Taylor, of Westfield, and John Hart, of Le Mars, with a World War II Victory Medal during a brief ceremony.

“These folks went into World War II together, and both were involved in an essential part of the closing year of the war,” said Grassley.

Taylor and Hart received a standing ovation from the crowd, which included family members, veterans and friends.

Hart and Taylor became friends at boot camp in Idaho where they became friends prior to serving on different ships.

“I was very pleased with the whole thing, it’s a tremendous honor,” said Hart of Wednesday’s ceremony. “When you get a standing ovation, you know people do appreciate what we did.”

Taylor, too, was touched.

“It means a lot, the recognition and everything,” he said. “One thing that bothers me is this is so much publicity and so many in the service never got recognition.”

Still, he said he was proud.

“We all love our country, and so it was a great day,” Taylor said.

Hart enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944 and served on a U.S. landing craft support ship during World War II.

Hart witnessed the signing of the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, when his ship was anchored alongside the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Taylor also enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944.

He served as a Petty Officer Second Class in the Pacific theater, the American campaign and the European campaign during World War II.

This year marks the 70th anniversary since the end of World War II.

Hart, accompanied by his wife, Gwen, and Taylor, surrounded by a number of family members, got re-acquainted and reminisced over dinner after the presentation.

“We just happened to hit the same place at the same time,” Hart said, as he recalls how the two met.

They traveled from northwest Iowa to Camp Farragut, Idaho, for boot camp.

The two recalled the times they marched around the grinder, or track, each day, shaking their heads as the memories came back.

Boot camp lasted six weeks.

“We never saw each other after boot camp,” said Hart. “I didn’t know where he was until a few days ago.”

From Idaho, Taylor went to Great Lakes Basic Engineering School, and then on to Richmond, Virginia, for diesel school.

He then went to New York City and Pier 92 for two weeks before his ship, a Destroyer Escort DE335, docked.

He served with about 120 men on a ship about 320 feet long and only 27 feet wide.

“They were designed mostly for convey duty. We circled around the ships which were taking planes and tanks and oil to England,” Taylor said.

The escort’s purpose was to be on the look out for torpedoes from German submarines.

Crew members would listen for submarines blowing water.

“They kept people on the bridge, with binoculars, to try to spot their antennas and stuff,” Taylor said.

Taylor was a motor-machinist who worked on the four large Fairbanks engines used for propulsion and the Detroit diesel engines which supplied electrical power.

During his time in service, Taylor made six round-trip cruises to various ports in England, and two to Naples, Italy.

He returned home to Westfield and worked construction for 17 years, including paving projects in Le Mars.

He then farmed after his father retired, and moved to the home place.

Hart took a different route in his Navy duties.

“I was assigned to quartermaster school for 16 weeks, also at Farragut,” Hart said.

His next orders took him to Virginia for amphibious training.

“After that, I was assigned to Portland, Oregon, where we picked up the ship,” Hart said.

Hart served aboard the United States Ship Landing Craft Support (Large) (Mark 3) 92, one of 130 ships commonly called the “Mighty Midgets.”

These were ships that would be the first to go in on attacks.

The crew, 65 enlisted men and and seven officers, served together for two years, aboard the ship in the Pacific Ocean.

The Mighty Midgets served under a flotilla of the Third Fleet in the Pacific.

“I once went six months without seeing land,” Hart said.

One event forever in his memory is the signing of the Japanese surrender.

He remembers crew members sitting on the small ship’s towers, watching the ceremony with binoculars.

The ship stayed at Japan for 90 days on occupation duties.

“I got to travel around Japan,” Hart said.

Hart said he was told he was the first Le Mars boy to step ashore on Japanese soil.

Hart returned to Le Mars and worked with his father at his Culligan water business. He later sold cars and worked at Wells Dairy, now Wells Enterprises, Inc.

As Taylor and Hart talked Wednesday, Taylor said through the years he has thought about guys from Sioux City, Hinton and Remsen, who went to boot camp with them, but doesn’t know where they’re at now.

Taylor said he did find out from a friend that only two gate posts remain of the Camp Farragut.

Hart said he tried to keep track of people, but acknowledges many of them have died.

At Wednesday’s dinner gathering, Taylor and Hart received one more surprise.

Taylor’s daughter, Susan Switalzski, presented each man with a commemorative coin from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, which she recently visited.

The limited edition Challenge Coin was specially made for the 70th anniversary of World War II.

Hart said this coin means a lot to him.

“That’s something when you start thinking of 70 years ago,” Hart said.

Taylor and Hart said the day was memorable, not only for the medals, but for the opportunity to be together again.