A VFW chaplain said a few words, two soldiers in dress uniforms folded an American flag into a precise triangle and handed it gently to the widow, a rifle squad fired three volleys and Taps was played as 50 mourners bowed their heads.
In 15 minutes Hudson Turner, a former World War II soldier who lived in Englewood, Fla. for 40 years and served with the 192nd Field Artillery Battalion in the Pacific became a statistic like most of the 16 million other men and women in this country who fought in the Second World War.
The federal government says more than 1,100 of these old warriors die every day. It estimates there are approximately 2.5 million left, 65 years after the last bullet was fired and the last bomb was dropped in World War II.
Hudson was laid to rest in the new Sarasota National Veterans Cemetery on Clark Road, four miles east of I-75, southeast of the city limits.
Under bright blue skies and puffy white clouds that sailed along on a cool spring breeze he was buried with military honors. It was a perfect Florida afternoon for such a gathering.
Hudson would have approved of the ceremony, the turnout and the beautiful Florida sunshine. It was a great day for burying an 88-year-old soldier.
He was among the 70 National Guardsmen who marched off from Greenwich, Conn. in 1941 for military training, but didn’t return to town until four years later. His field artillery unit was attached to the Army’s 43rd Division that sailed for New Zealand arriving there in late 1942.
The “Yanks” were the best thing the New Zealanders had seen since their soldiers marched off to fight in North Africa with the British some months earlier. They were especially appreciated by the young ladies of the colony.
It wasn’t long before Hudson and Betty got together. She was working in a warehouse he was sent to guard. They dated and before he sailed to war aboard a troop transport with thousands of other American soldiers he promised Betty he’d come back to her after the war.
The Japanese set their sights on capturing Australia and New Zealand. But Hudson and the rest of the American troops changed all that. Hudson and his field artillery unit would stop the Japanese westward movement at Guadalcanal. After that the land of the Rising Sun would fight the rest of the war on the defensive.
Hudson would also see action in the Russell and Philippine Islands in 1943 and more fighting came his way in New Guinea before returning to New Zealand in October 1945, shortly after the Japanese unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces in August of that year.
But Hudson didn’t come back to New Zealand with his unit. He had been injured by a Japanese bomb while sailing in an open supply boat off Guadalcanal. By the time his outfit reached New Zealand he had already been released from the service and was back in Connecticut trying to figure out a way to return there and marry Betty.
By 1946 he finally made it and found his “Kiwi Girl.” as he was fond of saying decades later, “She was the only girl for me.”
The couple returned to the United States and he went to work for Sears. In 1970 they moved to Englewood and raised two daughters and a son. Hudson retired from Sears in 1984.
“If I had to live my life over again I would come back and do the same thing,” he told me when I interviewed him some years ago about his military experience during World War II.
Hudson W. Turner, Jr., 88, of Englewood, Fla., passed away Friday, March. 26, 2010. Hudson was born in Port Chester, N.Y. March. 21, 1922.
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, April 30, 2010. It is republished with permission. Moore’s original War Tales interview with Hudson Turner appeared in the Englewood Sun on Tuesday April 17, 2001.