Churdan Legion honors last World War II veteran
By ANDREW MCGINN
CHURDAN — Clare Hunter looked so sharp, so natural and just so at ease Friday in his olive-drab wool Army jacket and khaki mohair tie that it took a good long while before you realized he had paired it with sweatpants and velcro shoes.
“The moths must’ve eaten them,” Hunter said of his trousers.
It was the first time since World War II that Hunter, 97, donned the jacket he last wore as a boy.
“This is a special occasion,” he said. “I’m proud of this uniform.”
The occasion was recognition of his 70 years of continuous membership to American Legion Post 198 in his hometown of Churdan — the longest-serving member “by far” of the post, Adjutant John Lonergan said.
Hunter is the Churdan area’s last-living World War II veteran, and among just a few countywide.
“Four or five years ago,” Lonergan explained, “we did the 60-year ones. Now they’re all gone.”
Hunter, who will turn 98 in April, can hardly believe it either.
“I just can’t believe how old I am,” he confessed.
Hunter still lives at home with help from daughter Joanna and her partner, Billy Sammons, but lost his wife of nearly 72 years, Wilma, on Jan. 30. She was 96.
“It’s been a long, eventful life,” he said.
Yet somewhere inside the old man is the boy who was drafted in 1942.
“I took it in stride,” he said of the day he was drafted. “I knew I had to take my turn.”
For 33 months beginning in September 1942, Hunter served in the transportation corps at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, in Canada, a port city that was the most northerly railhead on the North American continent and a vital supply base for the war in the Pacific.
“I went where they sent me,” said Hunter, a 1939 graduate of Jefferson High School.
As a clerk, Hunter kept tabs on what bombs went where.
To the north, American and Canadian forces were fighting to pry the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, an unsettling toehold for Imperial Japan on U.S. soil and a forgotten chapter of World War II.
Hunter had an older brother, Carl, who was fighting in Europe with the Army. A younger brother, Donald, remained at home to help farm until Clare returned, at which point Donald enlisted and served in Korea with the Army of occupation.
Today, of their four sisters and two brothers, Clare and Donald are the only ones left.
Their father had made history as the very first baby boy born in Churdan.
That was in 1883.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, it’s believed that fewer than 500,000 are still alive. That number will dwindle to fewer than 100,000 by 2024, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
A lifelong Baptist, Clare Hunter said he considers it an honor to be among the last of Greene County’s World War II veterans.
He wants to be buried in his uniform.
On Friday, he let the world know that it still fits — perfectly.