World War II veterans
These men were honored at Monday’s Gainesville Rotary Club meeting:
Rewinding history, World War II veteran Hal Smallwood had a somber plea for those attending the Gainesville Rotary Club’s meeting: Don’t criticize President Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan.
“Had he not dropped those bombs, I would not be here today,” he said. “I was on my way to the invasion of Japan. We were scheduled to be the first wave to go in.”
“That’s right,” said Jerry Moeller. “I was too.”
Smallwood and Moeller were two of 13 Hall County veterans recognized Monday afternoon for their service in World War II, the world’s most deadly conflict, one that drew in the U.S. with Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor nearly 75 years ago.
In what was the club’s earliest chance to observe Veterans Day, club members chose to seek out and invite as many WWII vets as possible.
“It took some time, but it was really fun,” member Abit Massey said. “It’s great to be able to honor them and hear their stories.”
During the event, Smallwood paid homage to his oldest brother, T.J. Smallwood.
“He was a great, great soldier,” he said. “He served well.”
The veterans’ service in the war was given briefly as each one was introduced.
And their experiences and where they served spanned the globe, from Normandy off the coast of France to New Guinea and the western Pacific Ocean.
The Rotary program also featured a talk by University of North Georgia faculty members Chris Jespersen and Richard Byers.
Jespersen talked about the Pearl Harbor invasion on Dec. 7, 1941.
“It did not determine the fact that the United States was going to enter the war,” he said. “It determined when. The United States was going to enter the war. The question was when.”
Jespersen said that at the time, Japan’s leaders believed Americans “were too happy, too large and too lazy” and “would not fight that hard to retain or regain the territory they had lost.
“The Japanese leadership had made a serious mistake.”
Moeller said, “I don’t think anybody realizes how terrible the defeat was at Pearl Harbor. Eighteen of our biggest and strongest ships were down. We didn’t have a Navy, really.”
The veteran said Americans “were very lucky” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in power, “with his magical voice able to rally the people of America.”
“If we hadn’t had that, heaven only knows what we would have done,” Moeller said.
Moeller went on to make a couple of other points, chatting some with Jespersen as he spoke to the audience.
“What are you doing next semester?” Jespersen said to him finally, drawing a big laugh from the crowd. “Won’t you come talk to a couple of my classes? You’re someone the students need to hear.”