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Interview on experiences in World War II

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RICE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

WORLD WAR II VETERANS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

INTERVIEWEE: DEAN J. HOFFMAN INTERVIEWER: MARIAN POE DATE: AUGUST 30, 2006 LYONS, KANSAS

POE: This is Dean J. Hoffman. We're interviewing him in his home today, the 30th day of August, 2006, interviewer Marian Poe. Hello. Dean, would you like to tell us when you were born?

HOFFMAN: I was born January 23, 1925. POE; 1925. And where were you born? HOFFMAN: At Sterling. On a farm south of Sterling. POE: Were you raised at Sterling?

HOFFMAN: I was until I was a junior in high school. Then we moved to Alden, and (I) finished two years over there, and graduated there, 'til I joined the Navy then. When I was 17,1 joined the Navy there.

POE: So, did you finish up your high school?

HOFFMAN: I sure did. I graduated out of Alden.

POE: And then you went right in?

HOFFMAN: Well, within the next two or three months I did.

POE: And what branch of service were you in?

HOFFMAN: Navy.

POE: Do you want to talk about your training, and where you went and all that?

HOFFMAN: Well, I went to the Navy pier in Chicago and then my boot camp there, came home on boot leave, went back to Chicago Navy pier. Well, no, it was the Great Lakes where I went to boot camp, but I went back to the Navy pier and had aviation mechanics school there. Was there for seven or eight months, I think it was. From there I went to Memphis, Tennessee . I went to radar school there, and from there I went to Purcell, Oklahoma, and went to gunnery school there, and then I went to Cape Canaveral, what it is now. It was a Naval base there. I took training in a two-engine patrol bomber, and in fact it was the first flight I ever took in my life, when I was there, and it was quite an experience, knowing it was somebody who just came off the plains and went to the ocean and started flying over it, you

know. We was based there for, oh, about four months I think it was. And then they shipped me -1 got to come home on delayed action. Then I went to San Diego, and I went there for three days. They was forming a squadron in Alameda, California, so I went from San Diego to Alameda and formed a squadron of EPB19, that's a patrol bombing squadron and we formed there and formed about sixteen crews of eleven men, and we each had a plane. There was a pilot and a co-pilot, and a navigator, and my rating was aviation machinist mate, and plus a gunner, a top-turret gunner, and had a pretty good-sized plane That's it sitting up there, on top of the , on top of the . . It has three turrets in it and each turret has two 50-caliber machine guns in it, and then they had two more 50-caliber guns on the waist guns, they were on the waist when they opened up. Very interesting, why I thought it was, for a dryland sailor. I really enjoyed my work, and done a lot of flying. Totally we done - 'til I got back from overseas I'd had 900 and some hours in. We went from Alameda - we trained out of there, took gunnery training, patrol bombing off the coast and kept looking for submarines. It was a Navy flying boat. It wasn't amphibious yet. You had to land on the ocean. You'd take off on the ocean and land on it. Some of the ships were amphibious - you could land water or them either one like PBY was. If we had to take it on a ship, we had to put beaching gear on the side and on the tail and pull it up on the ramp and we had to work on it that way.

Well, if I can go back, Chicago was really a wonderful liberty town. You could do anything, for nothin'. A young man, seventeen-eighteen years old, away from home, you know. I can't say nothing that's bad about the USO. It was one of the best organizations I've ever seen. Well, when we left and went to Hawaii - we went to Hawaii and were based on Kaneohe Bay in the north part of Honolulu, or Hawaii. It was a Marine base, but the Navy flew out of there. And enjoyed that and got a lot of patrols off of there, seen the Punch Bowl, where the old cemetery was there. Oh, that was back before they raised the Arizona up. It was still layin' on its side by then. In fact the whole bay was pretty well full of ships laying on their side. And I can see how they really slipped in on us, 'cause we were asleep, for sure. It was Sunday, just like everybody else, sleeping it off, you know. And of course we flew out of there for quite a while, and had sail bottles they called them, they were bottles that fit on the side of the plane. If you had to have help getting up in the air - a two-engine plane - you didn't have enough power sometimes with the waves and everything. We tested them quite a little bit. You'd get up speed and then as you'd get to takeoff, you would kick your jail bar and it was just like a jet then. I have a picture here. Sometime you might want to look at it. We did all that - investigated and all that - then we went to Kwajalein for a little while, and the Marines had just taken it, and we stayed there for about six weeks, I guess it was. Then we went on over to Eniwetok - of course, that's where they tested the bomb later on. So we were there for flights for submarine duty, and we'd fly to Wake Island. The Marines were still bombing it then, so we had to fly coverage for them. When they were strafing, if they cut one of them down we'd have to pick them up, you know. It was interesting to me. We got pretty cuddly with them cause they would fly along beside-they could fly faster than we - we had to shut down to about 130 knots. It was all the faster we could fly. So they had to put their fins down so they could slow down enough. And we'd take the coffee pot and pour it out and they'd kind of move over toward us. Our ship had a galley on it, and you could cook your own food in it and everything. There were eleven men on patrol - on the crew, and we flew around a lot of the different islands - Ponape Island, and I can't name them all. They're scattered all over. And we got into - not a hurricane, but, oh, a big rain storm. We got into a couple of them, and then we was getting ready to go somewhere. So we got orders finally to

go to Sipan. We landed there for awhile and that was the same time we were there they invaded Iwo Jima then. And we invaded the 28th of February, and by March the 4th we had enough ships to make a landing area out in the ocean away from Mount Suribachi . On the 4th of March we landed there. We were based on a seaplane tender then. And we were very surprised to look down as we flew over the island to make our landing pattern. You could look down on those poor guys down there fighting by hand, and I was glad I was up there except not down there. On the other hand, they said, well, what if somebody hit your gas tank? So we were anchored off the base of Mount Suribachi. The CBs had gone in before and put out anchors for us so we could tie up to them, and so the boat would come out and feed new crews to us, come out and take us off for night watch and stuff like that, help us get to base, and we'd get to stay on ship at night. And of course all night you could hear this racket going on over on the island, lights flashing all night long, you know, and we finally started on a patrol one day and there were so many things drifted out in the ocean - dead bodies and tanks and bottles - everything, you know. So we were taking off one morning on patrol when we happened to look out. We hit something and it knocked the outer float out there - on that right side - it knocked that off - and we were shy of that. We couldn't land without a float on there, so we were flying around over the ocean trying to figure out what we're going to do. So the captain said, well, you have two choices - try to land here, or fly on back to Saipan and land there. So Captain (?), he thought it over a little bit and said he thought he'd rather land right where it's at instead of take a chance of getting on back there. We were flying over all these ships, you know, and underneath us you could see, as far as you could see there was nothing but ship except for landing craft coming in and everything like that. And so he said, well, when we get ready to approach I want two of you to get ready to get up on the top. There was a window up there where they shoot the moon. And when I land and slow down enough, he wanted me and another guy by the name of Crockett, he wanted us to get out there and run out on the right wing and put our weight - 400 pounds or whatever it was - and hold that wing down. If you didn't you'd go out in the water and probably could go under. And we were lucky enough. He finally cruised enough to keep that one wing down, too. And finally the boats come out and put a (?) underneath that wing so it wouldn't go down. In the meantime the prop had hit the fan and it just bent back like that, you know. And just ruined it, naturally. And so they took us in, and then they come in and brought the crane and we taxied up, not taxied but pulled us up to the ship and they got a great big 22-ton crane up on this ship and just picked that thing up and carried us right on the fantail of the ship, you know, and they put a whole new end and pontoon on it and it knocked -went back hit one of the vertical stabilizers, knocked it over so you couldn't use your rudder at all, you know. Well, that's pretty interesting, I thought at the time. I wasn't scared until I got back to the ship. They gave us us a shot of whisky and put us to bed. The first time the Navy ever gave me a shot of whisky in my life. And we stayed on the ship for - well, we had to stay on our ship 'til it got ready to go on, and I think in about eight days we went back to Saipan and then they shipped us on back to Eniwetok to finish patrol duty back there. And the funny part, we just got back to Eniwetok and we hit something else and knocked another float off. They started calling us -1 don't know what they called us - unlucky, I guess. But that time at least we got to dump all the gas out before we landed. Before, we just had to land right now with torpedoes and everything else on.

POE: That was scary.

HOFFMAN: It was, you know, but you don't think about that at the time. Not much, anyway. Especially when you're eighteen, nineteen, you really don't think much is going to happen to you, anyway, I guess. Oh, we come on back and finished doing patrol duty and carrying the mail -whatever we had to do. We stayed there until we come back, which was about ten days before we got back to United States. They flew us back to come home on leave, and when we was home on leave that's when they dropped the bomb over there, and otherwise we thought we probably would have to go back over again. But in the meantime they dissolved the squadron. There were about 180 to 200 contingents in our squadron. We had our own company and everything, you know. (Hoffman stopped to get a book.) This our crew. This is me right there in front of the Captain. This man, this man, this man, - they're all dead, you know. There is some we lost track of. There were all 80. I was one of the youngest in the crew.

POE: Well, you went in when you were seventeen. You had to have your parents' permission.

HOFFMAN: Yes, I did. I went in three weeks before I turned eighteen. POE: On what date did you go into the service?

HOFFMAN: Oh, January 12 I think it was. My birthday's the 23rd, so it was just two weeks.


POE: And that was 1943 - right after Pearl Harbor. And when did you get out? HOFFMAN: 1946. February 16,1 think it was, almost three years to the date. POE: All most.


HOFFMAN: Everything's just normal. Normal living. Boring. You flew one day, you'd go off the next day, and be on standby the next day, so you'd have every other day you'd fly. And we'd fly, oh, eight to twelve hours a day. That's pretty long time you got in the air, you know. We had a lot of trouble with our first planes that we took over. They were the old model Curtiss engines. We had to come back many times after engine burnout or something, fly back on one engine. After awhile they started coming out with Pratt-Whitney engines, bigger engines and a little better plane. It was pretty rough to land one of them planes on the water, 'cause that water's just like - as strong as cement is when you land on it - and when you take off they've got a step on the rear end there - a little sharp point on the back end there, on the bottom there, and to take off you have to get enough speed up to get up on that step so you break a suction out of the bottom of your plane. Otherwise it would just suck you and you couldn't get off the step. That's how come they put that bottles on there too. And I don't know . . I got out, come home, was discharged and married my high school sweetheart. That's it. Eighty-one years later, here I am. And I feel every year of it once in awhile.

POE: And Ruth was that high-school sweetheart?

HOFFMAN: Yes. She was in the eighth grade when I started going with her. I was a junior

in high school. I was kind of robbing the cradle.

POE: You were. Yes. So while you were over there flying around all over the place, were you able to correspond with her?

HOFFMAN: Well, just letters is all.

POE: You mentioned delivering the mail. So you were able to send and receive mail regularly?

HOFFMAN: Yes. Yes. To my surprise how all this mail and supplies met in the right spot. All the ships over there .and you had an APO address - a fleet post office address - different wings, a third wing and a fifth wing, and there was Halsey and there was -1 forget what his name was now. We were under the third wing and we kept our flight book. And that's where I -1 wrote a little story about my life in the Navy for the kids. In your flight book you keep track of all your flights and tell how many hours you end up with.

POE: And it tells you that.

HOFFMAN: Oh, yes, it's a killer, 'cause in case you ever wanted to go into civilian flying you had to have of course I wasn't a pilot of a plane but I had flight hours, though. And I ended up with 916 and 8/10 hours and when you're on a twelve-hour flight, that's a long time. Well, we had bunks in the plane, and it was big enough you could get up and walk around and you didn't have to sit in your seat all day long, you know. The tail gunner, now he had to crawl back quite a ways in that skinny part back there to get his seat.

POE: I'm going to turn the camera off you and over here is what you're referring to.

HOFFMAN: We've had since, oh, the middle of the 1980s, they started having reunions of the squadron. The first one was in San Francisco, and I didn't get to go that year. I don't know why. Since we've had about ten, I guess. I went to one in Washington - Seattle and I went to one in San Diego. I went to one in St. Louis. They had one in Florida, but the year they had a real bad hurricane down there. I was based in Pensacola before I was discharged and that's where it came up there at that Pensacola that memorial park there.

POE: Would that be Andrew a few years ago?

HOFFMAN: I think it was, yes. You were in the Navy, you say?

POE: No.

HOFFMAN: I thought you said?

POE: I was in the Army.

HOFFMAN: Army, okay. Well, you've been around too.

POE: Not like you. Not World War II.

HOFFMAN: The only thing . . I wish I'd have had a chance up the coast to New York and the Washington area. We've never been there and I'd like to go, but I'm afraid it's too late by now. I don't want to fly any more. I've never flown since I got out of the service. I just never wanted to. But I would like to fly in a jet to see how they say you go up and you come down, and pretty steep, I guess. I don't know what else to show you.

POE: Well, let's go way back when you were being raised around Sterling and Alden. Did you have brothers and sisters?

HOFFMAN: I had three brothers, two sisters. And I've lost my oldest brother. I'm the old man now. I lost my next brother. I have one brother and one sister left now.

POE: Were any of the others in service?

HOFFMAN: My two younger brothers were. Well, we all were. My dad was. The whole family was in. He was in World War I My older brother was in naturally before I was in. He was four years older than me and he was in the Army. My brother Dale, he was a paratrooper, and my other brother, he was just straight Army. He said I want to get in and get out. Well, I can't think of too much more. I can show you a picture of when that thing hit that, just bent that stabilizer there. (Hoffman refers to a picture).

POE: I think that picture might show up.

HOFFMAN: 160 foot across the wingspan and 80 foot long. It looks kind of small, but it was the Navy's biggest bomber then except for the land plane B24 and the B17. That's Mount Suribachi there. That's where they flew the flag up there. They didn't have it there when we were there yet. The Japanese were still shooting off of that.

POE: You weren't injured in any way while you were in service?

HOFFMAN: No.

POE: Not even when you climbing out on the wing.

HOFFMAN: It would have been pretty cold falling in the water. I hung on pretty tight. Off in the open sea, you know, you had pretty good waves hitting - five- and six-foot waves. That hitting the bottom of that thing, it was like hitting it with a cement ram.

POE: I'm trying to picture how that worked. So you would land and then would you, like, tie up to a ship?

HOFFMAN: Well, we'd tie up to a bill buoy unless we had to go into the ship and taxi up there and hook on and they'd lift us up. They had three seaplane tenders out of Iwo Jima to take care of all the planes. Like I say, I don't know where they had the knowledge to get all that stuff together to fight a war. Ice cream - anything you want to say - they had it.

POE: One of the things you said you had a galley and that you were at a Marine base and that you were on Navy bases. How was the food?

HOFFMAN: Oh, good, good. That's one thing I joined the Navy for - three square meals a day. This is the battle then it ceased.(They refer to a photo). That is a picture when I was acting kind of smart. I wasn't of age then. I couldn't wait till I turned 18 so I could drink.

POE: That was taken in 1944. And you are in Honolulu - on shore leave, I believe. HOFFMAN: Well, we just went to town. That was my chief mechanic there. POE: Is that beach I see? Would that be Hawaii?

HOFFMAN: Yes, that was Hawaii, in Kaneohe Bay. The chiefs had their own little hangout on the beach there and we got to go over and help clean the place up so they could have a beer bust they throwed for us. It was real interesting, you come back from liberty and you see bananas trees growing along the road, you know- Real little bitty bananas. I thought that was something.

POE: Well, whenever you got out of service, you came back to Sterling-Alden area.

HOFFMAN: Came back to Alden, yes. Well, I tried to farm and of course land was pretty hard to get a hold of, and my dad he didn't have enough - he had about a quarter of ground -and I had two younger brothers coming on too. I fooled around and had a job or two, you know. I finally got a job -1 took a test for a rural carrier examination, passed it and got it, so I was real tickled to get it.

(Poe and Hoffman discussed a series of articles on World War II veterans written by Judy Jones.)

HOFFMAN: Well, she does a real good job, I thought, It wouldn't have got done if she hadn't done it.

POE: She had a whole series of those and the ones I looked at were real good. Now did she interview you for that also?

HOFFMAN: Well, I kind of had some stuff written up and she ask me some questions.

POE: I didn't get what your birth date was.

HOFFMAN: 1/23/25

POE: And your address here is?

HOFFMAN: 117 East Washington.

POE: Phone number is? HOFFMAN: 257-2087.

POE: We're going to go back on the air now, see where we were when I had to stop. Oh do you remember your service number?

HOFFMAN: 6297064

POE: What was the highest rank that you had?

HOFFMAN: Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class. I guess that's equivalent to staff sergeant or whatever they call it.

POE: And you talked about the PBM?

HOFFMAN: The squadron was PB19. PBM stands for patrol bomber. Patrol Bomber Mariner, they call it.

POE: Did you get any special awards or medals?


HOFFMAN: Well, the only ones we had, a unit citation, and then of course the Navy come out since then, the Department of the Navy with this Award for Combat Action ribbon. And Good Conduct - everybody got one when the war was over, you know. We was supposed to get an air medal for flying. The Air Force and the Army, you know, we always said they got medals for practice. They had their 25 and they got to quit, you know, supposedly. I don't really know how much you really want to know.


POE: Well, one of the things I'm looking about is the GI Bill. Did you ever - were you able to use it?

HOFFMAN: I started to. I was going to do on the job farm training and I didn't have enough farming to do so I had to quit. Otherwise I didn't get a thing out of it.

POE: Really.

HOFFMAN: I don't think it's right, in the first place. There were several of us done that way. At that time I wish they'd give everybody $5,000 and you'll get drunk or go to school or whatever you want to, and then you don't have to have all this VA stuff. And there still trouble in the VA. I'm sure it was nice for the guy going to college. When you come back from service you come back to nothing unless your family had something to put you in.

POE: Did you join the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars?

HOFFMAN: My father joined me in the American Legion before I got out of the service. I've been in for 62 years. I'm a life member, in fact, now. And then I joined the VFW here ten, twelve years ago and I keep it up. They don't have anything left any more, either one of

them that is active. We donate to different things. It's been a godsend that the United Way come along and helped us. With the price of gas, it's really eating us.

POE: Yes, and you're referring to the Eternal Flame. HOFFMAN: Yes, on the square.

POE: Yes, on the courthouse square in Lyons. Lyons is the county seat. Were you around when that started?

HOFFMAN: We started that back in - well, back in about '68 or '69. A few of them got together and thought we should have an eternal flame and we did. Well, that's when Tom Ramsey and Jack Janssen and several of them got behind it. I just moved over here in '67 so I really wasn't really too active in it to start out with. Dutch Bolton, he offered so much money to put toward those two monuments up there and got the ball rolling. I think it's nice when it says All Gave Some and Some Gave All. That says it all. It should be Rice County, but it's turned out to be mostly Lyons. That's why we call it Rice County Memorial. I don't blame Sterling in a way; they don't get to see it every day, although they do come up and participate in our Veterans Day parade and stuff like that. Of course they have their own down there, too. I belonged there . . that's where I belonged at first when my father enrolled me. Then I moved to Alden and they started one over there, and I thought when I live there I might as well join over there. It's hard to push. Actually, we're down to three or four members pushing each thing going on now. Jay Reed, he's been our adjutant on the VFW and American Legion for, I don't know, 15 years - maybe more. That's a lot of work he does -getting out the membership. He's in the hospital now. He's had two toes removed. He has diabetes. We had to kind of take over. He hasn't turned the memberships in and we had quite a time getting them all in.

POE: One of the things I do want to mention - that you are the United Way representative for the Eternal Flame.

HOFFMAN: Yes. Jess Price is on there too. He hasn't been too active lately. I called on him the other day and he just can't hardly get out any more. Says he is feeling better however.

POE: Well, now that you're retired, what kind of hobbies are you participating in?

HOFFMAN: Drink coffees mostly, watch television. Oh, I just piddle around, enjoy myself. I walk every morning and stuff like that. I've had some sickness and I've been real fortunate to get over it.

POE: Did you and your wife raise children here in Lyons?

HOFFMAN: They were mainly reared in Alden, and then when we moved over here, we had the boy and the youngest daughter yet. They went to school here.

POE: How many children did you have?

HOFFMAN: Three. My oldest daughter, Francine, she's in Sterling. (He mentions another daughter in Sterling.) I've got six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Don't ask me to name them. My son went into the Navy too, and then when he got out he switched over to the Air Force Reserve, and he was at Salina based at the Air Force base up there, and at Wichita. He got out, he worked for Northern Natural and he quit just in time before it went under. He's the superintendent at the light plant in Sterling now.

POE: Did you make any friendships while you were in service, or did any friends go in at the same time you went in?

HOFFMAN: Well, I'd see them just now and then, but I don't think there was anybody from Kansas that I knew that was in the boot camp or anywhere. There was a boot out here from Goodland. His name was Byers. He was in boot camp with me. I've never seen him since. He's only 200 miles out there, you know. I asked about him one time, but he wasn't there anymore.

POE: And the friends that you made while you were in....

HOFFMAN: Well, the crew was just like a family, really. Oh, we had quite a few drinking buddies in there. They were all from New York, New Jersey. They talked kind of funny, I always thought. I got all the stuff I could get a hold of. several members of the squadron wrote their memoirs, you know, what they done when they got out and everything like that, which is interesting. Here's an article about our crew about when we had the crash landing and everything. That's the night we spotted the submarine. We flew around four quarters of it. We dropped sideways, you know in the water and that was kind of a telephone, that's what it was, and it would send signals back, so according to where you dropped them, you'd hear the noise over here, that's where the submarine would be. We flew around most of the night until we ran out of gas and had to come back. I think they finally got us the next day. This is the one I really like. It says July the 10th, (?) and crew relieved and left for home; Three year, one month, 12 days. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I wouldn't take a million dollars for the time I spent.

POE: End?

HOFFMAN: There are probably a lot of things I could add, but I don't know what it would be right now.

POE: Okay. Well, in that case, we will conclude our interview at this point with Dean Hoffman.

HOFFMAN: Thank you for doing it.

POE: Well, I appreciate your time. Now I have to get all the paperwork done. It says location of service. What would I put there? Would it be Pacific?

HOFFMAN: Pacific, yes. That's where I spent most of the time anyway.

TRANSCRIBER: CAROL YN SA YLER/MITZI SUHLER



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