OTTUMWA — People are treating veterans with more respect these days, said former soldier Jim Snook.
Now 93 years old, Ottumwa-born Snook lives just south of Moulton. While out one December day in 1941, he and some Ottumwa friends hopped in the car after hunting squirrel.
"We turned the radio on and heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. At first we thought it was some kind of science fiction radio show or just some goofy radio announcer. But there was no such luck.”
In 1944, after completing Army Air Force training, Snook boarded a ship on the west coast of the United States. He was with the 597th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion, which was to set up short-range but extremely portable radar units on one Pacific island after another. That ship was an adventure in itself, Snook said. A long adventure.
"It was 31 days," he said, "and we went with no escort. It was an old Dutch freighter that had been converted into a troop carrier."
They made it to just off the southern coast of New Guinea, in an area heavy with enemy troops. They stayed on board the ship another month.
"We were on there for 61 days. It wasn't a cruise ship. It just had hammocks for the 350 of us," he said.
He later read in a military publication it was the longest troops at been at sea on a troop carrier.
As fighting continued, Snook's unit would land and set up its radar to warn soldiers of approaching aircraft. The Japanese would send bombs, or enemy soldiers would sneak out of the jungles in an effort to kill a soldier or two.
"It was called 'harassment'. Don't get me wrong, those aircraft, they killed some of our boys on that island."
Later, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur's army returned to the Philippines, Snook was with them.