John R. Hefton has a red folder containing his memoirs of World War II, when he served in the United States Navy for three years.
But 85-year-old Hefton does not need the pages to recall his stories and the adventures he came across as a young man.
Hefton, a Stephenville resident since 1960, said he was drafted into the Navy shortly before his 18th birthday.
“I went in when they were really grabbing those 18-year-olds,” he said. “We were young and strong and were not afraid of anything – at least we didn’t think.”
It was 1943 when Hefton went through a slew of tests and preparation for his naval life.
His first stop was San Francisco where he viewed Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge before sailing out into the vast ocean for training. Hefton said it didn’t take long for sea life to get to the sailors.
“Two days later we started getting (sea) sick,” he said. “By the fourth day we hoped we did die because we were so sick.”
Hefton said after touring Guadalcanal his crew ventured to another island where they underwent seven months of intense training.
“We did a lot of training,” he said. “We trained with regular guns, .20-caliber and .50-caliber machine guns.”
The crew then ventured north to the island of Pelelieu.
“That’s where we thought our lives were going to end,” Hefton said. “The first morning I woke up and it seemed like the world was coming to an end.”
Hefton said there were five battleships shooting over his smaller ship and gunfire took place “from sun-up to sundown.”
“We fought from daylight to dark,” he said. “That’s where your training comes in, we were trained for (battle).”
Hefton said his job was to run supplies on to the island, where Marines waited for everything from gasoline to food supplies.
Once he even volunteered to take supplies on land to the Marines and was placed in one of the scariest moments of his life.
“I stepped on a live mine,” Hefton said. “I was scared out of my wits.”
A Marine sergeant came to his rescue, however, and Hefton was able to return to his ship.
While war life was a mixture of many emotions and scenes for Hefton, including hearing Japanese gunfire, watching airplanes get shot down and running his ship aground to prevent it from capsizing, the biggest impact was made by ships commissioned to retrieve and transport dead and injured soldiers.
“There were five ships for carrying the dead and wounded away from that place,” Hefton said. “You have a chance to give your life, and for us that made it through it was a miracle. We were putting our lives on the line.”
After leaving the Navy Hefton returned to Texas where he finished his high school work and went on to earn a master’s degree from Baylor University. He married Dorothy Hunt and together they raised three children who, Hefton said, “turned out good.” He began teaching in Stephenville in 1960 and later retired to Good Tree Retirement Center.
Today, serving as a soldier is just a mere memory for Hefton, but he still sports his navy blue hat with yellow letters that mark him as a World War II veteran.
“I was glad to serve my country, “ he said.