Editor's Note: This is the 16th in a series of weekly articles on individuals, who made positive contributions to Stephenville, the Cross Timbers area and/or the State of Texas.
By STUART CHILTON Special Contributor
Today's featured person almost didn't make it through World War II. The ship he was aboard in 1945 was hit by two Japanese kamikaze planes.
Kamikazes were suicide planes piloted by Japanese airmen with a mission to crash their explosive-laden planes into U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Okinawa and Japan.
On May 11, 1945, this person was aboard the USS Bunker Hill, when the ship was hit by two kamikaze planes. The Bunker Hill was an aircraft carrier, capable of carrying more than 150 planes. The tragic attack, which caused a heavy loss of life, extensive fires and explosions, took place two days before his 19th birthday.
This young sailor was born May 13, 1926, north of Stephenville. He attended Stephenville public schools, graduating in May, 1943.
The following month, he enrolled at John Tarleton Agricultural College (now Tarleton State University), majoring in agricultural education.
He enlisted in the Navy in September, 1944, and completed his Boot Camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego, CA. He points out with pride, “My ROTC training at Tarleton helped me become a Platoon Leader in my Boot Camp company.”
His next assignment was to board the Bunker Hill at the Puget Sound Naval Base in Bremerton, WA. His duty assignment would be in the Western Pacific. Before leaving the states, the ship sailed down the west coast to Alameda, CA. to pick up about 150 planes. Approximately 3,500 persons were aboard the Bunker Hill.
At the time of the kamikaze attack, this 18-year-old sailor was taking a shower, two decks below the flight deck. General quarters were sounded; however, by the time he started making his way “top-side,” the ship was beginning to fill with smoke. It took him almost four hours, groping, crawling and gasping for air through the inner passages of the darkened ship before he and some of his buddies safely made it to the flight deck. He has often said, “That breath of fresh air was the best air, I've ever inhaled.”
The vicious attack left 373 men dead, all of whom would be buried at sea during the next four days. The Bunker Hill was able to stay afloat and return to Bremerton, WA. for extensive repairs.
Following his discharge in June, 1946, he enrolled for one more year at Tarleton before transferring to Texas A&M College (now University), where he received his bachelor's degree in 1949. He later received a master's degree from A&M in 1954.
On July 22, 1950, he married the former Bettye Talley Counts. The couple would later have four children - twin boys and two girls. All of the children are college graduates with three holding degrees from Tarleton.
In 1951, he joined the faculty at Hico High School as the agriculture teacher. He would spend 32 years in the Hico ISD - the last 10 years as superintendent. He retired in 1983. His high school agriculture judging teams had much success at area, state and national contests.
He has been a member of the Hico Lions Club, holding the position of Zone Chairman; a member of the Hico Chamber of Commerce; a member of the Board of Directors of the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association, Area IV; a member of the American Legion and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In addition he has held memberships in many other organizations. He and his wife are members of the Graham Street Church of Christ.
A Name to Remember - Mr. Harold Walker
Dr. Chilton, an educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.