Veterans Day came and went this past week, and the nation paused to recognize those that have served and are currently serving in the armed forces. As a child, I would often spend Veteran's Day with my maternal grandfather, who had served in World War II. Usually these days were spent at the cemetery, making sure that the veteran's graves were properly adorned, and at the local high school for a small celebration for those veterans still around.
As the years went by, I began to notice a sobering trend: there were fewer and fewer veterans at these events, and my grandfather, though he was aging himself, was always the youngest among the crowd.
In 1944, at the age of seventeen, Maurice Hoxie walked into a recruiting office with his parental permission papers signed, determined to enter the Navy. “The war was on, everybody was joining. I could have taken a farm deferment, and be exempt from service if I stayed in Iowa and farmed, but I didn't want that. Everybody was going to the service and I didn't want to stay home. I wanted to get the war over and done with.” Because of his young age and later enlistment, Hoxie is one of the youngest surviving WWII veterans today.
Though he ended up in the Navy, Hoxie originally wanted to be in the Air Force. “I thought the Air Force was the place to be. I was going to go to the Air Force, but they were transferring a bunch of them into infantry, so I went into the Navy. I wanted the Air Force, but not infantry,” Hoxie said. Growing up on a poor farm in rural Southwestern Iowa, Hoxie felt as if he already knew too well the hard life he would have as a foot soldier. “I didn't want to walk in mud, and you're fighting in mud and snow trenches and what have you. I did that on the farm already.”
Though he was eligible for a farm deferment if he would have stayed in Iowa and kept working, Hoxie knew that he wanted to go to war with the other young men. “You'd be exempt from service if you stayed and farmed, but I didn't want that.” So on May 9th, 1944, Hoxie reported for active duty and went through boot camp before he was shipped out to California for his weather boat training.
After his training was complete, the teenager from Iowa that had never before seen the ocean was placed on a weather boat out in Hawaii and shipped out to the North Pacific. Though he was severely seasick for quite a bit of his time in the North Pacific, Hoxie claims that it had nothing to do with his lack of exposure to the ocean. “Everybody got sick; we were in rough water – really rough water.” And though they were a weather ship responsible for relaying current conditions back to Pearl Harbor, they had their own share of close calls. Floating mines that had been anchored closer to Japan would lose their tethers and float dangerously near their patrol area. “We'd sight them every now and then. Some of the times they would use 20 millimeter shells and try to blow them up. Some times they would blow them up, sometimes they would just sink and not blow up,” Hoxie said nonchalantly. Though they were surrounded by floating mines, Hoxie seemed more agitated when I asked him about the persistent rough weather they had to endure in the North Pacific: “We often had to stay down in the boat and the weather was real rough up there. The life rafts were ripped off one night.”
After coming back to Hawaii in May of 1946, Hoxie spent six months stationed in Hawaii before coming back to Iowa. Though he enjoyed living in Hawaii, “Iowa was where home was, even though it's cold there.” After farming for almost fifty years, Hoxie now is retired, and living in his farmhouse built in the same location as the house that he grew up in. Enormously proud to have served his country, Hoxie remains active with the American Legion and was asked to serve as the Grand Marshall for Shenandoah, Iowa's Fourth of July Parade this past summer.
When asked if he would sign up for service again, Hoxie was certain he would. “I imagine if I was twenty, yeah. Somebody has to keep the country free, hon. If you don't keep them over there, they'll come here. You can't stick your head in the sand. We boys had to fight for our freedom.”
To see Maurice Hoxie's Iowa Public Television interview about his time in the Navy during WWII: