On Friday, Bruce Hunt and Zena, his wife of 62 years, will celebrate Veterans Day “very quietly” by hanging the American flag in front of their house in east Mesa’s Las Palmas Grand neighborhood.
“I think it’s one of the most important observances to participate in the country,” Hunt said of Veterans Day. “I always get a tear in my eye when the day comes. It was my duty to serve my country, and I am proud that I did.”
When Bruce Hunt was 21 years old and serving as a radio operator on a C-46 transport plane in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, a profound act changed his course of service.
When his 332nd Troop Carriers Squadron was getting ready to leave Greenland for active duty in the Pacific Theater, he was the last one out of his barracks when he saw the headline on the front of a newspaper: “U.S. Drops Atomic Bomb on Japan.”
That was in 1945, and “I just wondered what kind of propaganda an atomic bomb was,” said Hunt, who turned 88 on Sunday. “Then, I realized it wasn’t propaganda. We had dropped the bomb on Japan and they surrendered.”
From there, Hunt’s service included being part of the China, Burma and India operations, a little known part of the postwar efforts.
As a member of a four-man crew, Hunt helped to transport Chinese national troops and supplies to the northern part of China in attempts to bolster the Nationalist movement against Communism where the Russians had infiltrated a week before the U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan.
Part of his tour of duty included seeing the Nile River and pyramids in Egypt, the Burma Jungle Valley and the Great Wall of China.
It was quite a change from Hunt’s life in Joseph City where he grew up as the son of dairy farmer who kept a lot of families in milk during the Great Depression when they could not afford to pay for it.
Although the war was over during part of the time Hunt served, it didn’t mean troops avoided precarious situations. When they arrived in China, they nearly landed in a rice field where they were greeted by Japanese soldiers who helped to guide them to the end of the landing strip — soldiers who had not been rounded up for prisoner of war camps. Another time, they had to get permission from the Russians to land in Manchuria where the Russians were supporting the Communist movement. They were served dinner by the Russians.
Hunt has self-published a book of his stories, “Around the World in 80 Days — Plus 178: My Army Air Force Overseas Adventures in the Closing Days and Post-war Months of World War II.” The book was something he had started writing in 1945 about a year before receiving his honorary discharge from the Army Air Corps on April 12, 1946, after serving three years.Hunt said he is thankful he made it home as three of his brothers did who also served in the military during World War II.
“My father always said he hid behind a telephone pole when he saw the Western Union Telegram man coming,” Hunt said. “I considered many miracles happened because my mother asked for them at home.”
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