WWII Veterans Tell Their Tales

Lest We Forget

WWII Veterans

Tell Their Tales

Oneonta’s John Foreman points out his younger version while stationed in Japan in 1946-48,
after VJ Day. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

A typing class saved Fred Hicken from combat; he was assigned to personnel.

ONEONTA – For Fred Hicken, a few post-graduation classes at Oneonta High School made all the
difference.

“I was 17 when I went to Albany to register for the Navy,” he said. “It was April 1945. I had graduated in 1944, but went back to take some business classes, including typing.”

As a result, he was assigned to personnel work stateside, avoiding the conflict.

Hicken is one of fewer than a dozen World War II veterans who remain in Oneonta. “We’ve lost quite a few over the last few years,” said Terry Harkenreader, Commander of the Oneonta American Legion. “We’re starting to lose Korea vets too.”

In Cooperstown, only three World War II era veterans remain. “Last year the Veterans’ Club attended two dozen funerals,” said Floyd Bourne, the club’s new commander. “It’s eating into our Vietnam veterans too.”

Ahead of next weekend’s Memorial Day services (see Page B1) Cooperstown volunteers placed more than 400 flags on the graves of service members; in Oneonta, more than 3,000 were placed.

In February 1946, Hicken was posted to the Sampson Naval Training Base near Geneva, at the top of Seneca Lake. “The Germans had given up, so I was assigned as a typist in the separation center,” he said. “I was working in a room with 30 other typists, typing up papers for Navy veterans returning from the Pacific Theater. “I was very fortunate; I had choice duty!”

Discharged that June, he signed up for the Reserves. He came back to Oneonta and enrolled at Hartwick College, but in November 1950, as the Korean War was starting, he was called back into service. “The last time I took the passenger train from Oneonta to Albany was that trip,” he said.

He was sent first to San Francisco, then to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. “Before I left, I went to a doctor and asked him for pills because I thought I would get seasick,” he said. “He gave me 100 pills. There wasn’t a sick bay on the aircraft carrier we took to Hawaii, so I gave away about 90 of those pills to the other guys.”

He was again assigned to office duty. “Going back to high school was a good choice,” he said. “It kept me from going to Korea.”

He worked in Pearl Harbor until he was discharged in June 1952 as yeoman, third class, when he returned to Oneonta. He met his wife Ellie at Hartwick in 1953, and they were married the following year. He worked for her father, Howard Brown, at his insurance agency, as well as serving as the manager of the Tri-County Motor Club.

John Foreman, Oneonta, also served in the Army, 24th Infantry, in World War II, from 1946 to 1948, stationed in southern Japan following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after VJ Day, Aug. 14, 1945. “The fighting was over, but the war wasn’t just yet,” he said. “I was never in combat because of that bomb.”

The village where he was stationed hadn’t been hit, but on the way there, he remembered seeing the devastation. “The train station looked like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “The top floor was lying on the ground, and if you could have picked it up, you could have fit it right back on top.”

Because the war was still not officially over when he arrived, soldiers were not allowed to go into town unaccompanied. “We couldn’t fraternize with the Japanese,” he said. “We couldn’t eat in their restaurants or drink in their bars. If you had to go into town, you had to go with someone else.”

Foreman was still in Japan on VE Day, May 6, 1945, and remained until the end of 1947. He went back to his native Kingston and moved to Oneonta in 1961, when he opened Medical Arts Pharmacy. He sold the business and retired in 1990.

And on the day he signed up, Fred also learned one more thing – that he had been going by the wrong name his whole life. “I’d always gone by Fredrick,” he said. “I gave the recruiter my birth certificate, and it said my name was just Fred!”


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