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Lubbock residents quick to sign up for WWII

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

D.L. Willson still remembers just how large the moon seemed that night more than 60 years ago.

At the time, Willson was a gunner in Europe and was involved in bombing missions over enemy territory. The men aboard his B-24 that day had watched in horror as a plane similar to theirs exploded and crashed.

Willson could not find sleep, but he said he discovered something far more important.

"That's when I found the Lord," said Willson, who was 2 years old when his family moved to Lubbock in 1924. "I asked him to save us, and he did. Not a man on our crew had a scratch, and we flew more than 50 missions."

Those in Lubbock who experienced the impact of the second World War said faith, cooperation and self-sacrifice were hallmarks of a group of people later called "The Greatest Generation."

"Every generation is strong and forceful and has its goings-on to overcome," said longtime Texas Tech history professor Paul Carlson. "Those folks went through the Great Depression and suffered greatly, most of them. And then came World War II, and they willingly enrolled in the war effort and participated. When you count up things like getting through the Depression and a world war, it has to be a marvelous generation."

Willson was a Lubbock High graduate who volunteered for military service upon hearing the news about Pearl Harbor, which occurred 67 years ago today.

"I was coming from Plainview that day and heard it on the radio," he said. "I remember hearing that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I didn't know much about a war at that time; I just knew there was one, but I was not orientated to it very much."

Carlson said Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war to America's doorstep in a way that would not be ignored.

"Generally speaking, the recruiting offices were overrun with people," he said. "Sometimes people who were too old to serve showed up to enlist, and they wanted to join the Army, the Marines, whatever group would get them to the battlefield first. Men and women. Young and old. They all showed up, overwhelming recruiting offices after Pearl Harbor."

Carlson said the sheer audacity of the attack created a groundswell of outrage.

"You have to remember, this was a sneak attack on us," he said. "We Americans like to look each other in the eye and tell each other what is going to happen. If we face off in a fight, we let the other person take his coat off. It was a sneak attack - so un-American - that it just ran counter to American ethos and values and sense of fair play."

Willson said he planned to join the Air Force when he volunteered.

"I found out you have no decision to make on recruiting," he said. "They recruit and tell you where you're going."

He spent just less than six months overseas as part of a three-year, six-day hitch in the military.

"I was sure I was going to be drafted," he said. "I had three brothers and two brothers-in-law who went into the service after I did."

Putting the country first was the pervasive sentiment.

"Everybody was giving their all," said Allen Todd, a glider pilot who trained at South Plains Army Air Field in Lubbock. "I didn't run into anyone who wasn't trying to help in some way."

Todd's wife, Blanche, was 10 years old at the time of Pearl Harbor.

"I was at the Lindsey Theatre," she said. "I don't recall what the movie was, but I remember they turned it off and the manager announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked."

She said her father, who had served in the first World War, was among the many who volunteered to serve.

"I remember my father going to Dallas to enlist," she said. "He passed the physical, but couldn't get in because of his age."

Blanche remembers her family doing its part for the war effort.

"We had a victory garden, and I remember we had gas ration cards," she said. "My father was involved in the oil and ranching businesses, and he had a card that allowed the most because of his business.

"Lubbock was smaller then," she said of the city, which had a population of just less than 50,000 following the war. "Everyone knew pretty much everyone else. Our family was Democrats, and we were in favor of what President Roosevelt wanted to do for the country. We listened to the radio any time the president spoke. Whatever the news was, my father was interested in it, and we talked about it in our home."

Carlson said people understood what was at stake during World War II. Because of that, they pulled together in ways rarely seen since.

"Think about the self-sacrifice and the willingness to go without, to participate in the war effort," he said. "Then think about Vietnam and about what's going on in Iraq. People don't want to participate. They didn't want to be involved. Those things didn't happen in World War II. People planted victory gardens. They bought war bonds in huge numbers. Schoolchildren saved their dimes, their nickels and their pennies and bought war bonds made available through the school."

In other words, they did what it took for as long as it took.

Is that the mark of the greatest generation?

"I think so, but I was there," said Willson. "I only hope no more have it that bad."

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The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION