Instead of running from his responsibilities to his country, Bill Hunter faced them in a different way.
“I was draft dodger, you see,” Hunter said jokingly. “I went to the draft board in Boone, which is where I enlisted from, and I saw my name was real close to getting picked. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that’. So the navy recruiter told us that if we wanted to go and beat the draft we would have to go the day after Christmas.’”
With that in his mind Hunter did the most logical thing he could think of.
“I joined the Navy the day after Christmas in 1950,” Hunter said. “I went to boot camp in San Diego and spent something like seven weeks there, I think it was. They were trying to get people out in a hurry. They wanted to build the fleet in a hurry. From there, they sent me up to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay for electronics school. I spent 36 weeks there at electronics school.”
When he signed up for the Navy, a few of his buddies from high school signed up with him. He knew that if he didn’t join the Navy, he would be drafted into the Army and most likely go to Korea.
“So I opted to take four years of Navy enlistment instead of the two years in the Army,” Hunter said. “That was the negative side of it of course.”
Although he originally joined the Navy as a way of avoiding the Army, Hunter grew to love the Navy and his time there. He traveled all around the world, made a number of friends and has many stories from his service days. A lot of these things he would not have done had he stayed on his family farm in rural Boone County.
“It was just a 160-acre farm,” Hunter said. “One hundred and sixty acres was kind of the norm back in the 1940s. We had 24 head of milk cows, and my brothers, my dad and I milked those things by hand every morning and every night. I developed a tremendous grip because of it.”
That grip would pay off in the most unusual way for a farm boy turned seaman.
“We were on the boardwalk at Atlantic City,” Hunter said. “One of these guys that bummed around me was a pretty well-built kid. He was testing the grip machine. Of course I out-gripped all of them. And they said, ‘How in the world did you do that?’ I told them, ‘Milk cows like I did and you’ll have a grip like that.’”
His travels in the Navy also varied. He has been to Holland, where he literally watched them clean the streets. While in Naples, Italy, he visited the ruins of old Pompeii. He toured Cuba in the pre-Castro days. He did shore patrol in Monte Carlo and hung out in Scotland.
While he was stationed in Haiti, he experienced an interesting incident involving race relations.
“We were on shore patrol,” Hunter said. “And we are assigned to this nightclub that wasn’t in the main city. So we were told we weren’t supposed to leave until it closed. So just before it closed, this cab driver comes up to us and he says, ‘You have to come with me. A couple of your sailor buddies are in trouble.’ I say, ‘We can’t leave. We got to stay here until it closes,’ which we did.
“So then the guy took us down to the main part of the city,” Hunter continued. “There’s these two sailors off the ship, standing in the middle of the boulevard amongst of all these native people out there. So we ask what happened, and the guy goes, ‘Well they think these guys killed one of the black sailors in the bar.’ Anyway, to make a long story short, actually what had happened was the black sailor that was with them had got too drunk and fell off the stool and was just laying there.”
Hunter has a great sense of humor about his times in the service. He left as an electronics technician second class but expressed no regrets about only doing his four years and not re-enlisting.
“No, I didn’t even stay in the reserves,” Hunter said. “Some guys like that, being told what to do. I want my freedom. It’s a pretty structured life. I enjoyed a lot of it, it wasn’t bad or real bad. I was just happy to get out.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.