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Veteran’s childhood full of wonderful memories

September 16, 2018

Bart Spencer recalls summertime memories on the farm with his grandfather in Chesapeake, Ohio.

During summer breaks from school, Bart Spencer’s pre-teen years were full of wonderful country memories wearing bib overalls on Granddad Hesson’s 65 acre farm in Chesapeake, Ohio. Those were summers of running barefoot, swimming in Symmes Creek with friends and riding a gentle horse named “Patsy.” He still remembers the aroma coming from the cool storage cellar under the smoke house. There was always a ham or two hanging up to cure. When time came to start another school year, he returned back home to Huntington.

During the school year, he lived the life of a city kid. He has memories of Saturday matinees at the Park Theater on 20th Street, Blue Plate specials at McCrory’s five and ten, the Schwinn Bicycle he got for Christmas, sleigh riding on the road going to the Lion’s Den in Ritter Park and riding the city bus to Camden Park. In fact, he first heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor while listening to the bus radio.

“I’ve so many childhood memories,” said Spencer. “They’re all good, especially my summers on Granddad’s farm. There wasn’t any electric or running water and there were chores but always time for swimming, eating fresh tomatoes and Ma Hesson’s gravy and biscuits for breakfast.”

Spencer also remembers the devastation caused by the 1937 flood. The water stopped two inches short of the upper floor of their Huntington home. The damage was so severe they returned only for the furniture and clothing carried upstairs. They moved to Huntington’s Highlawn district where he attended Enslow grade school.

“Enslow grade school consisted of a few wooden buildings located next to the junior high,” said Spencer. “I walked to school and often carried my lunch which usually consisted of an apple with a peanut butter sandwich. When it came time for junior high I just changed buildings. When I started the 7th grade I stopped spending all summer at Granddad’s farm but I continued spending weekends for some time. That’s when I got a paper route that went from St. Mary’s Hospital to 26th Street along 1st Avenue. Because I now had spending change, I’d often head to Highlawn Pharmacy for a delicious lunchtime milkshake. When I started high school I gave up the paper route.”

Spencer played trumpet in the band at Huntington East High School. An all-male band 110 strong and they traveled well.

“In the 10th grade the band traveled to New York,” said Spencer. “We stayed in a hotel right in the heart of town for three days. Coney Island, Empire State building. Times Square, Macy’s Department Store and pretty much anywhere we wanted to go. In the

11th grade the band went to Washington D.C. for three days of touring the sights. As a senior we went back to New York for another good time.”

Spencer graduated from high school in 1949 and started classes at Marshall College pursuing a degree in Business Management. He also belonged to Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He said most members of the fraternity were WW II veterans attending MU on the GI Bill.

“In my third year at Marshall the military draft got me,” said Spencer. “I could have asked for a deferment but I just decided to get it over with. After my induction physical at the Ventura Hotel in Ashland, I went to Fork Knox, Kentucky, for boot camp and the fine art of learning to drive the M1 Tank. Learning to drive that tank was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Spencer said that you needed three hands to maneuver that tank. Recruits were even transferred to other specialties because they couldn’t master the technique of driving a tank using steel pipes for steering.

“After Fort Knox we boarded an Air Force C-124 cargo plane called “Ole Shaky” and flew to Tacoma, Washington,” said Spencer. “Next we were crammed into an ocean-going freighter where we slept in crowded bunks that were hanging four high. The cruise took 21 days and on the 15th day a storm hit the boat. There were about a thousand soldiers on the ship and I’d guess 800 became sea sick and it wasn’t pretty. The air was stale and we couldn’t get top side which made matters unbearable. Everyone was happy to get off that ship and no one seemed to care where it docked.”

After their arrival in Japan, the men received new clothing that had been pre washed in a special solution to repel mosquitoes.

“Our next move was a boat ride to Inchon, South Korea,” said Spencer. “There was nothing left of Seoul, Korea, but a pile of rubble. We reached our base camp destination and became part of the 89th Tank Battalion. They had the newer M46 Tank that handled a lot easier.”

During this interview, Spencer paused a few minutes and decided that there were memories from Korea he still has difficulties sharing, which I completely understood.

“Weather in Korea was hotter than anything you can imagine,” said Spencer. “Winters were brutal. I walked a patrol in minus 10 degrees on more than one occasion. When it rained, it rained for days. There was nothing that would prevent the rain from soaking through anything you were wearing.”

Spencer talked about the mine fields surrounding their compound as a warning of unwanted visitors. One night the mines began detonating an alert. Battle positions were manned only to discover that two dogs had made it through the field looking for something to eat.

“I returned to Huntington and went back to Marshall on the GI Bill to finish my degree,” said Spencer. “After graduation I went to work as an underwriter for an insurance company. Later, I went back to Marshall and got an accounting degree. Next, I was hired by the Corps of Engineers in their accounting department. I retired there after 30 years.”

Spencer first saw his wife on TV watching her sing on “Saturday Night Jamboree.” He managed to get an introduction, had a few dates and now they’ve been married 62 years.

Spencer still loves golf and plays every week, weather permitting. He’s even scored a hole-in-one at Sugar Wood.

Last year, Spencer visited Washington D.C. again, this time he was part of a different band. A band of brothers aboard Honor Flight touring military monuments. A trip he says he will cherish for a lifetime.

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