Two Jasper County veterans to receive war medals
SULLY — Nelson Hoskins might have been a bit impulsive in his youth, but his attitude led the former Iowa Southern Utility employee from Sully on an adventure around the world, taking him from Korea, Japan and the Philippines to Italy, Greece and France.
“When I was 16 I knew everything there was to know, so I quit school and got a job,” Hoskins joked at his abrupt start to a Naval career.
It was 1949, and at 17, Hoskins was working for an optical company in his native downtown Minneapolis, Minn., when a friend approached him one day with a quick decision.
“This friend came by and yelled at me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I got to go down, get something to eat and get back to work,’” Hoskins remembered. “And he said, ‘Let’s go down and join the Navy.’ I never went back to work.”
On Friday, after nearly 60 years, Hoskins will receive medals earned for his service during the Korean War at a 10 a.m. ceremony at the Newton American Legion Hall. The retired chief petty officer said that he lost them during a ship transfer in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I had orders to come to Ottumwa for recruiting duty, and the ship I was on took me to the Mediterranean, and he wasn’t supposed to,” Hoskins said. “There was another chief machinist on the ship, and he was the Master-at-arms. The XO (executive officer) didn’t want him to go down into the engine room, and so they took me over there too. We were on our way to Souda Bay, Crete and the captain went through the roster and he asked the XO, ‘What the hell is Hoskins doing here?’ So there was another ship in the area going into Naples. They were going to transfer me. I had a big bag that came loose and it went down into the drink.”
Hoskins nearly lost all of his belongings, including his medals.
The Naval veteran served until 1968. He was part of the shoreline bombardment during the Korean War on the destroyer U.S.S. Rupertus. Hoskins said that he participated in Korean operations three times during the war.
“If you’re not in a storm at night, it’s smooth sailing,” he said. “We went through a typhoon (with three other destroyers in formation). You couldn’t see the other ones. The ship took a 57-degree roll, which is close to capsizing. And our bunks had straps that we wore as we slept to keep us from rolling out at night or during the day, whenever we were sleeping.”
Hoskins’ home port was in Long Beach, Calif., but as a recruiter he worked in multiple states, including Iowa. He said that during the Vietnam War he recruited three men who he knew died in combat, including one from Seymour, who Hoskins said was the first Iowan to die during the conflict. During the Jasper County Freedom Flight to Washington D.C. in October 2011, Hoskins said he could not visit the Vietnam Memorial wall, and still gets emotional at times.
“There is something very private about it,” Hoskins’ wife Rhonda Hoskins said. “So many of the guys don’t like to talk about it.”
Organized by Jasper County Treasurer and Freedom Flight Coordinator Doug Bishop, Friday’s ceremony also will posthumously honor Lloyd Leon Fults of Kellogg, who was in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954 and died a couple years ago. U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-IA, will present the awards to Hoskins and Fults’ wife Juanita at the Newton American Legion Hall.
Rhonda Hoskins said that they tried to keep the medal ceremony a secret from her husband, but after finding the letter from Loebsack, she had to tell him the good news.
Initially, the couple planned on 50 people attending the ceremony, but now they are planning for 125 people, including Nelson Hoskins’ siblings, who will make the trip from Minneapolis to see their brother honored.
Preparing for the party, Hoskins had a spread of memorabilia out on his dining room table with Internet printouts of the different ships on which he served and Naval arm patches. A black and white photograph shows Hoskins in his uniform playing a Martin guitar with another seaman who holds a Martin mandolin. Nowadays, Hoskins still makes music, touring Jasper County churches, senior centers and events with his wife Rhonda on upright bass.
“We were figuring on just a few friends and family,” Hoskins said. “But it’s snowballed on me.”
Mike Mendenhall can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.