World War II heroes still inspire

Published 9:10 am Friday, November 16, 2018

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Davie County Veteran’s Day observance Sunday afternoon.

There sat Harold Frank, with his old Army coat on, right in front, in the middle – by himself. Knowing he had just undergone heart surgery earlier that same week, I really didn’t expect to see him. I’ve been to most Veterans Day observances for the past 30 years or so, and every year, one of the highlights was shaking Mr. Frank’s hand.

A German prisoner of war, he went through hell, only to come home and get married and raise a family, just like so many of his generation. They endured and saw things no man or woman should ever have to see. And then they came home and went about their lives.

And just because you’re in your mid-90s doesn’t mean you’re not in control of your life. When the doctor told Mr. Frank he needed emergency heart surgery  and she could squeeze him in that night, he told the doctor no. He said he could tell the doctor was already tired, and had no businesses working on his heart. He told her so, too. And she changed the time of his surgery for a few days later – the first thing in the morning – after she had a good night’s rest.

Thanks, doc. You were going to work on a true hero, after all, one who will be remembered forever in the Forks of the Yadkin/Davie County History Museum.

Sunday’s observance had one other World War II veteran in attendance, Craig Hanes.

Growing up, I had no idea that Mr. Hanes was a war hero. I just knew he was a friendly, nice man. I was friends with his children. And Mr. Hanes had the keys to the Smith Grove gym. If a group wanted to play some basketball, all you had to do was go by Mr. Hanes’ house, pay a few bucks and get the keys. Lock it up and return the keys when done.

Returning to Davie County to work at the newspaper, I soon learned that Mr. Hanes is, indeed, a war hero.

He was 18 when he enlisted in December of 1942. Like most people in those days, he had seen little beyond Davie County. He had undergone training and was put on a ship, which left San Francisco. They were supposed to be part of a convoy, but never met up with other ships.

He was asleep on deck at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1943, when a Japanese submarine struck the Cape San Juan with a torpedoe.

Craig Hanes learned quickly that he was in the middle of a war. “I realized for the first time that we were in a war and they meant business.”

He and more than 20 others escaped onto a life raft meant for 14 people. They were adrift in the South Pacific. Many had died as the ship sank. Others had died in the open ocean.

He remembers an airplane circling, so that if the Jananese sub surfaced, it could be shot. That may have saved their life. He remembers a cargo ship helping some people on board, something that was risky because it made that ship a target of the enemy as well. He and the men tried their best to reach that cargo ship, but couldn’t get close enough to jump onto that rope ladder hanging from its side.

They were on that raft all day, and then all night. It could have broken the spirit of the toughest men, but not Mr. Hanes. When one of the sailors started shouting they were all going to die, Craig Hanes was the one to calm him down, or at least shut him up. “I didn’t get too scared,” he told interviewer Kyle Swicegood in a video. “I had a feeling that everything was going to be OK.”

It took some 36 hours aboard that raft before they were rescued and taken onto a destroyer.

“There were a lot who didn’t make it,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy deal.”

So yes, Nov. 11, Veterans Day rightly brings back memories for Craig Hanes. It’s a special day for all veterans, for all Americans.

Started as Armistice Day marking the end of World War I, it has been celebrated for the last 100 years. The only thing that could make us more proud is if that pundit who called World War I “the war to end all wars” had been correct.

– Mike Barnhardt