A Personal History of World War II” - written by Lawrence Worth Hatch of North Beach, Md.
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In January 1943, just before graduation from high school, I went over to G Street in Alexandria.
From the movies I watched as a kid, I learned to love the Navy, especially when Australia.
In one of his movies, Dick Powell sang:
“Shipmates, stand together,
Don’t give up the Ship!
Friends and Pals forever,
We won’t give up,
We won’t give up the Ship!
Fair and stormy weather,
It’s a long, long trip.
If you’ve got to take a likin’,
Carry On and Quit your kickin’,
Don’t give up the Ship!”
The night I went to join my beloved Navy was about a week before high school graduation. I figured I’d pass the Navy entrance exams, then join up to leave home after the graduation ceremonies. When I went in, there was just one other young guy to join that night. This fellow was very, very thin. In fact, he looked skinny - like a skeleton. He passed the exam and joined the Navy.
I felt strong and in good health and was fully confident that I was a good candidate for getting in. I had good shoulders and biceps from using crutches as a child and later working in the A&P grocery store. However, when the word “arthritis” came up, I told them that I had arthritis when I was a child. This was a no-no. There were three sailors looking me over from stem to stern. I can still picture them now in their Navy blues (which I wanted so badly) telling me that one of the toes on my left foot was a quarter-inch longer than the others (I had never noticed that).
To make this sad tale short, I was rejected by the Navy. I went into a deep purple mood. I was embarrassed and humiliated and deeply ashamed.
I even received a reclassification from “1-A” to “4-F.” This meant that I would definitely not be drafted and could not help defend my country from its enemies. I was devastated. I told no one about this. I didn’t want anyone to know! (Patriotism changed greatly in some Americans during the ‘60s and ‘70s.)
My mother suggested that I try the Army. Since there were about 12 million Americans in the armed forces and most of them in the Army, there was a “wise guy” saying going around that “Anybody could get into the Army.” Hey, I’m anybody. I went to the Army recruiter at the Alexandria post office. He said they had stopped accepting volunteers, but I could “volunteer to be drafted.”
The draft board was located in the same building, so I volunteered right away - then and there, that very day. About a week later, I received my “Greetings” notice to meet at Prince and Washington streets in front of the post office to ride a bus to Richmond for a physical exam. All day long, hundreds of us with no clothes except a towel around our waists stood in long lines inside of a college for one health test after another. It was much more thorough than the exam I had been subjected to on G Street a few weeks earlier. Boy, do I remember when they asked me if I had ever had this or that disease and I answered in the negative to each one. Even when they asked if I had arthritis, I lied and said, “No.”
When we were all told to “Squat!” I knew this was my big test to pass or fail. I could bend my knees like anyone else - except I couldn’t bend them enough to sit on my heels. I could come down to about an inch from the heel, but no lower. I hunched down as low as I could get when the guy checking us walked by, pointing to each man for a split second before hurrying on to the next. When he pointed to me and then went by, I knew I had made it.
Shortly after, we were all sworn in to protect the country and became members of the U.S. Army. I was one happy guy on March 1, 1943. There’s a saying that we are the happiest at the beginning of something. That was my happiest day in the Army, except maybe the day I was discharged.
I had to go home to see a young girl, Eleanor, tell my mom and family goodbye, and quit my job at the Washington Times-Herald where I was working in the advertising art department. The truth was, I could have done all of this beforehand, but I really wasn’t sure the Army would take me since I’d been turned down by those Navy men.
As it turned out, going home for that week counted as my furlough, which later made me eligible to go directly overseas. The Army gave every soldier a furlough before sending him overseas - and that was mine.