Bob Copeland was 15 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and World War II began. He was too young to enlist, but he was determined to serve his country.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was Dec. 7, 1941. But Copeland, 87, remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I wanted in (the military), but my dad refused to consent. So I signed up for immediate induction when I registered,” Copeland said. “I finally got in when the Battle of the Bulge broke loose.”
Copeland was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division in Europe as a rifleman.
“We lost our squad leader and then our platoon leader and it got all the way down to me,” he said. “I was an 18-year-old staff sergeant leading the company. We had lots of casualties with new troops joining us every day to replace them.”
Copeland was one of 17 replacements in the company he would later lead. By the end of the war, only two of the 17 replacements were still alive. In 1951, he received a direct commission to second lieutenant and saw combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam making the Army a career. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Bob Paine, 92, saw a want ad in the paper that the Army was looking for recruits with engineering backgrounds.
“Before I knew it, I had signed up, was saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and had on nothing but my underwear when I was handed a black trench coat,” Paine said. “It took less than three weeks for me to be in the fight.”
Paine said there was no basic training back then and he was put in a combat area with no firearm. As an engineer, his job was to create charts for the infantry of the islands being invaded.
“It was all hush, hush and we could not discuss it, even among ourselves for fear someone would overhear,” Paine said. “No one knew where we were or what we were doing. We got bombed a couple of times. But there was no grace and no relief.”
Paine still carries his original dog tag in his wallet.
Bill Hooten, 97, said he enlisted in the war to protect his family. He joined the war effort, doing reconnaissance from a zero plane, and recalled shooting at the Japanese.
“If it weren’t for us, (Japan) would’ve invaded the Aleutian Islands and the war would still be going on,” Hooten said.
He retired from the Army in 1963 after 25 years of service.
All three men, who now reside at Stoney Brook Assisted Living in Copperas Cove, agreed that patriotism ran high during the war.
“You didn’t have all of these people protesting the war,” Copeland said. “There was nothing to protest. It was win (the war) or learn to speak Japanese.”
The men recalled not seeing their families for years during the conflict and the Army being integrated in 1949.
“We were in a combat zone and behind every tree was the Japanese. We had our own skin to worry about,” Copeland said. “We didn’t see color. We were happy to have the help.”
“The military was hungry for people who could do the jobs,” Paine said. “(The U.S.) definitely got caught with its britches down that day (Dec. 7).”