Recently I had the privilege of visiting with World War II Veteran, Leo Hurm, who had recently celebrated his 95th birthday. Born in Kentucky, he completed the eighth grade, but had not yet had the opportunity to go to high school. His father wanted him to stay on the farm and raise tobacco, but he had other ideas about what he wanted to do with his life He enrolled in a Conservation Corps Camp where the workers built dams, planted trees and other projects in Kentucky.
He decided to join the army and enlisted at Williamsburg, Ky. in 1941 Four of his brothers also joined military service. His first station was at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis He talked about basic training. One of the tests was that he was told to dig a fox hole, and it should be deep enough to hold him. He did as he was told, and then discovered that the test of whether the foxhole was deep enough came when the tank rolled right over him.
He was very happy that he had made the hole an adequate size. Then it was off to Texas where he learned to be a sharp shooter. One day, the sergeant came into the barracks and singled out several of the taller men, including Leo. They were transported in large trucks to another school where he learned to put in pipe lines. From there his unit was shipped to New Guinea.
After they unloaded the equipment, the first project was to lay pipeline to the airfield. The men slept in tents, since the weather was warm, but the first rain storm convinced them they had best move the tents to another location, since they had placed them in a spot which carried considerable water inside each tent. Most of the food came from Australia for the troops, and of course, K.P. duty was expected from the enlisted men as well.
Off duty, there was a nice beach, so Leo decided to lie in the sun for a while but he was badly bitten by sand fleas. When he reported to the infirmary, the doctor took one look and commented that he could see that he had been lying on the beach. After that, he didn’t enjoy the sand quite as much.
He was sent back to Indianapolis, and in 1945, was honorably discharged at Wright-Patterson AFB. During his time in the military, he met Harry Truman on two different occasions. The first time, he was in Owensburg, KY when Truman entered the room. There were several soldiers there, but only Leo was in uniform, Truman spoke to him briefly at that time. He saw him once again when Air Force One landed at Wright Patterson.
In 1945, having been honorably discharged from the Army, he was seeking employment; He secured a position with Mayflower Moving Company, but decided to leave for a position with Chrysler. That job lasted only a short while, he was laid off, and decided to go back to Mayflower as a long-distance driver.
His driving record for Mayflower was excellent over the years, and he had many adventures while working for the company. He drove all over the country, somehow missing North and South Dakota in his many travels. One of the highlights of his work was when he was sent to pick up a load in Hyannis port. It turned out that he was to pick up and haul furniture and other items for the parents of President John F. Kennedy.
They loaded the truck, and the butler came out of the house inviting Leo and his helper inside. Mrs. Rose Kennedy proved to be a perfect hostess. She arranged for a light lunch to be served to the men to enjoy while they were there, along with the “best sweet tea I ever drank.” Leo remembered that the tea was served in a large copper kettle.
Mr. Hurm also spent a great deal of time as an operating engineer in road construction, having worked in the I-75 project among others. After he retired, he became the caretaker for St. Brigid Cemetery, a part-time position which he very much enjoyed. In fact, he enjoyed it so much; he continued to work there, tending the grounds until he reached the age of 88, when his family suggested that due to his health, he should resign.
He continues to work in his garden, harvesting both flowers and vegetables. His daughter says he had a green thumb.
Leo was one of those fortunate Veterans who made the trip to Washington D. C. on the “Honor Flight.” He spoke very highly of his experience, and that he was so pleased that someone remembered him in this fashion. He enjoys being an active member of the VFW where he has served as chaplain, along with other responsibilities for many years. And so, here is another thank you to one of our own Greene County Veterans.
Joan Baxter is a county resident and historical columnist.