Honor Flight brings generations together

(Editor’s Note: The story and the accompanying photo were provided by Staff Sgt. Kelly Galloway Goonan of the 439th Airlift Wing, Westover Air Force Base, Chicopee, Mass. Hobert Yeager, of Lisbon is Goonan’s grandfather. Goonan and her mother, Anna Dailey of New Cumberland, Yeager’s daughter, accompanied Yeager to Washington, D.C., for the Honor Flight on Veteran’s Day 2012. Goonan’s feature appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Patriot, the base magazine. She is a 2006 graduate of Brooke High School in Wellsburg.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hobert Yeager was 18 and working on a gas field in rural West Virginia when he received a draft notice in the mail in 1943.

“I didn’t think much about it at the time, I guess. A close buddy of mine was also drafted the same day,” Yeager said.

The two left for boot camp together, but after training they were separated. His friend fought in Germany, while Yeager was sent to the South Pacific.

“My buddy didn’t make it home,” Yeager, now age 88, recalled.

Nearly 70 years later, he was able to take his first trip to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the Honor Flight Network, to see the memorial that honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S. during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions who supported the war effort from home.

As light infantry and mortar gunner, Yeager was assigned to the 21st Infantry Regiment, under the 24th Infantry Division, one of the first U.S. Army Divisions to see combat in World War II.

“There were three or four regiments on board to New Guinea,” Yeager said.

After the troops made landfall, they set up tents and camped at the bottom of the mountain for a few months while waiting for assignment.

“We could see Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters, ‘Ol’ Stovepipe’ as we called him, from where we were camping,” Yeager said.

In late 1944, the 24th division made an assault landing at Leyte Island in the Philippines, initially encountering only light resistance. However, once the 24th drove further into the Leyte Valley, they came under heavy enemy fire, facing snipers and mortar fire.

“There was constant attack for a good while,” Yeager recalled.

“While at Pinamopoan Ridge, my buddy was killed right next to me by an exploding mortar. The lieutenant to my left had his jaw blown off,” Yeager said, without emotion.

With the entire regiment under constant fire and explosions all around, Yeager says he was lucky to only have had shrapnel driven into his sides. After the fire subsided, Yeager was rushed to the 36th Evacuation Hospital for treatment.

While there, he developed malaria.

“I don’t remember much after that because my fever was so high,” Yeager said. After 20 days, he was released and rejoined his regiment who were still fighting on the front lines in Leyte.

After taking Leyte Island, Yeager’s regiment was sent to aid occupied Japan.

“We thought we were to go to Australia to pick up more troops, but were diverted and sent to Okayama, Japan,” he said. “We passed through bombed-out Hiroshima on the troop train I could see debris and rubble.”

After 31 days in occupied Japan, Yeager returned home to West Virginia and received an honorable discharge in 1946. For his service and sacrifices, he was presented with two Purple Heart medals, a Bronze Star, an Army Good Conduct medal, Victory Medal, Occupation medal and an Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal.

“After the war, I received a letter from the 24th division commander which stated: ‘During the entire period, this regiment was attacked, fighting in terrain which favored the enemy more than us. The 21st Infantry Regiment counted 2,133 enemy kills 14 captured prisoners. The total for the 24th Division was 5,149 enemy casualties. This regiment therefore accounted for 42 percent of the division total.'”

When asked what he thought of seeing the monuments in D.C., he replied: “It was good to finally be able see what had been built in our honor.”

On the bus back to the hotel, the chairman of the Honor Flight Network, Jim McLaughlin, addressed the 15 veterans on board: “Although none of you will ever accept the title – in my eyes you are all heroes.”