Troy Huddle has lived in 18 states and was stationed in 16 of them while he was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy Reserve and U.S. Air Force.
But he was never stationed at North Carolina (where he went to college for one year) and Mississippi (where he was born) during his storied 32-year military career.
“My mother even homesteaded in Montana. I see why she left. When I was working on the flight line there, the temperatures once dropped to 55 degrees below zero while I was stationed at Great Falls,” he recalled.
Huddle was also stationed in Alaska for three years, and was even stationed on an iceberg in the Antarctic Ocean for six months. “And we never saw 55 below up there,” he said and laughed.
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Huddle, who now lives between Marine and St. Jacob, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. He later served in the South Pacific, helping to deliver food to soldiers. Huddle was also stationed in New Guinea, the Philippines, and other South Pacific islands, where he performed a similar task.
On Tuesday, Huddle was one of about 75 veterans who were recognized during a Veterans Day Ceremony held at Highland High School.
“It’s a happy day, because I’m still kickin’,” said Huddle, who is now 90.
Huddle was joined by a number of other area World War II veterans, including Laverne Strotheide, Burnell Petry, James Causey, Leo Cahoon and Roland Harris. They received special recognition at the one-hour assembly for serving the country during World War II, which ended 70 years ago.
After the ceremony, Huddle visited with retired U.S. Army vet Phil Chapman of Highland. The two shared many stories with each other.
Chapman, who joined the U.S. Army in the 1980s during the Cold War, believes it’s important to keep and hear the memories of soldiers today.
“All of these memories are going with them,” Chapman said. “Unless you go to them and ask them, what they did, all of that will be lost to us for all time.”
Unlike Huddle, Chapman said he never served when it was 55 degrees below zero. But he said he once served on the Czech border when the temperature was cold, but not that cold.
“And I was not on the line fighting two way firing like this guy (Huddle),” said Chapman, who served over 9 years in the Army.
Chapman, who is now retired, went on to work with federal service, where he worked in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Huddle spent 32 years in the service before he retired in 1975. He went on to work in civil service for 18 years.
Huddle and Chapman each said they always enjoyed serving their country.
“I like my freedom,” said Huddle, whose ancestors came to the U.S. in 1732.
“I think it’s our right to keep our country free,” said Huddle, who in 1968 was sent from Japan to Korea to build barracks.
Huddle said he chose to enlist in the Coast Guard on his fruition. But three months after he enlisted, his mom got paralyzed. After that happened, he remembers his hometown wanted to get him discharged, so he could help his mom.
“I enlisted while I was in high school, because she didn’t want get drafted by the U.S. Army,” he said. “I had one brother in the Army, and another in the Navy. The one in the Army ended up being in the Air Force.
“My mom also wanted me to be in the Coast Guard because she didn’t want us to be all in the same branch.”
Strotheide, 96, grew up on a farm with his dad in Jamestown until he was 21.
He joined the U.S. Navy, and was assigned to the transport ship USS St. Mihiel in 1942. His ship transported soldiers to Alaska. While stationed in Alasksa, Stroheide also worked on the the Alaska Highway (also known as the Alaskan Highway, Alaska-Canadian Highway, or ALCAN Highway). This highway, which was about 1,700 miles long, was constructed during World War II for the purpose of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska through Canada. Fewer than two months after Alaska Highway builders began their task, Japan launched an assault on Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Japanese forces would occupy the American territory for over a year.
To win back the strategic ground, U.S. forces launched operations in May 1943. Against the larger struggle in the Pacific theater, the fighting on Attu Island may have seemed minor, but its costs were hardly trivial: of 15,000 U.S. troops, 550 were killed, 1,500 were wounded in battle, and another 1,200 casualties were caused by inadequate clothing and boots for the cold weather. It was an enormous defeat for the enemy: only 29 Japanese out of about 2,500 survived.
Strotheide, a petty officer first class, ended up seeing every continent, except Antarctica. He later worked at Wicks Pipe Organ Co. and at the Granite City Army Depot. In September 1946, he married his wife, Opal. They were married for 61 years before she passed away in 2007.
On Tuesday, Strotheide started to cry when he was with presented an American flag.
“Unless you are, or were in, the service, the flag means a little bit more than it does to the average guy,” said Strotheide, who will turn 97 on Dec. 4. “When I see the flag today, it reminds me to respect everybody.”
Like Strotheide, Cahoon, 94, was moved to tears by Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Today was a pretty emotional day,” he said. “It was emotional seeing the kids. It brought back a lot of happy memories.”
Cahoon went to Giger School near Marine, where he finished eighth grade. He them moved to Alhambra, where he worked on Curtis Wright Aircraft Lambert’s farm until he was 21.
He was drafted by the U.S. Army, on Dec. 31, 1943, and was discharged almost two years later, on Nov. 15, 1945.
He fought in the Battle of Bulge, a major German offensive campaign launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg on the Western Front toward the end of World War II in Europe. The surprise attack caught the allied forces completely off guard. U.S. forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties for any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces on the western front which Germany was largely unable to replace. German personnel, and later Luftwaffe aircraft (in the concluding stages of the engagement), also sustained heavy losses.
When the Battle of the Bulge broke out, Americans “scattered like a bunch of quail,” Cahoon said. The U.S. Air Force could get off the ground for more than two weeks due to the weather.
Cahoon said Tuesday’s ceremony brought back a lot of memories.
“That’s about all I can say,” he said as his eyes started to moisten.