Wayne Hilton of Deep Creek subdivision near Ponta Gorda, Fla. was a kid from Young County in northeast Texas when he joined the 11th Airborne Division in 1944 and shipped out to the Pacific during the closing days of the Second World War.
“I was 18, just out of high school and wanted to make an extra $50 a month for jumping out of airplanes, so I signed up for the airborne,” the 90-year-old former paratrooper said. “I went to jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., got 30 days leave after graduation and headed for the Philippines.
“We sailed out of San Francisco for the war zone. I remember going under the Golden Gate Bridge as we went out to sea. Everyone was hanging over the railing seasick. It took our little convoy 26 days to reach Manila.
“They had just dropped the big bomb when we landed in August 1945,” Hilton recalled. “Manila was all blown to hell by the fighting before we arrived. “We got off the ship and took a troop train to northern Luzon Island in the Philippines.
“They sent the first group of the 11th Airborne Division to Japan as occupation troops. They scattered the rest of our division all over the Philippine Islands. I was one of the ones who was assigned to a quartermaster trucking company in northern Luzon.
“Our job was to haul Japanese prisoners out of the mountains. We went up there with army trucks and hauled prisoners back to a POW camp on the coast along the South China Sea. Over the next three months I made 30 or 40 trips into the mountains and brought back Japanese soldiers who had been starving in the hills before they gave up.
“The prisoners were no problem at all. We’d put 30 or 40 prisoners in our truck and take them to the POW camp. They were ready to get something to eat and survive when we got them. The problem was driving the truck into the mountains. It was the most dangerous part of the whole undertaking.
“Some of those mountain roads were washed out,” Hilton said. “The engineers would come in and put 4 by 4s over the gaps in the road. Then we were supposed to drive over the 4 by 4s. I was an 18-year-old kid driving that truck and I was scared.
“You would inch up a little bit on that 4 by 4. Then you’d get out of the truck and take a look. Then you’d inch up a little bit more to get across. It was scary work.”
So what happened to you after you made your trips into the mountains of Northern Luzon to cart Japanese prisoners back to the POW camp along the coast?
“I didn’t have enough points to go home and be discharged. They gave everyone a chance to reenlist for a year and after that you would be discharged. I got into that real quick.
“I was sent to Japan as part of the occupation troops. I went to Sapporo on Okada, the northernmost island of the Japanese island chain,” he said. “Sapporo is where they had the Winter Olympics a few years ago. We were housed in dorms at the University of Okada.
“When we got leave a buddy and I would go to town and look around like tourists. It was really strange because the Japanese people didn’t seem to have any animosity toward Americans. The people were very friendly.
“One time we took a train to Wakkanai, the northern most city in the Japanese empire. It was an historically old city that hadn’t been bombed by the Americans. We had no place to stay so we spent the night sleeping on benches in the train station.
“I enjoyed every bit of my time in Japan. It was a real eye opener for a kid from Texas.
“When my year of service was up, I took a troop ship back to California. Coming back one of the soldiers seriously injured himself when he fell five decks into the hole of the ship. They tried to fly him to a hospital in a seaplane that met our ship at sea. As the plane took-off it was hit by two waves and went down. I think the injured soldier was lost at sea in the accident.
“I was discharged from the airborne in Sacramento, Calif. and took a bus home to Texas.
“I started out in civilian life driving a propane truck in the oil fields. After that I spent a decade working for Phillips Petroleum Co. In the 1970s I began a career in the food service business. I started feeding the students the University of Texas at El Paso. Then I transferred to food service at Long Beach State College in California. In 1975 I started my own food service business in California and continued working until I was 85 in 2012.
“My wife, Martha, and I retired to Florida last year.”
The Hiltons have three adult children: Stephen, Brian and Sue.
Name: Emerson W. Hilton
D.O.B: 27 Nov. 1926
Hometown: Young County, Texas
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 27 Nov. 1944
Discharged: 16 Nov. 1946
Unit: 11th Airborne Division and 507th Quartermaster Trucking Battalion
Battles/Campaigns: Phippines, Army of Occupation, Japan
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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