Tagged: World War II

I just ‘did what I had to do’

This was one of the happiest days of my life,” Dean Lanphere recalled, looking at his self portrait taken 71 years ago.

The photograph was taken just a few minutes after Lanphere’s wife, Geneva, pinned his wings on his U.S. Army Air Corps uniform. It was May 15, 1943.

“I thought I was the hottest thing on earth on that day,” he said with a grin. “That was a long time ago. I was so young and a hot rod back then.”

Shortly after the picture was taken, Lanphere was deployed to Sydney, Australia.

The newly minted bomber pilot arrived with swagger.

“I remember a major telling me when I arrived there, ‘Hey, fly boy. You think you are the greatest on earth?’ ” he said.

Lanphere, who was then 23 years old then, walked quietly away from the Air Corps major and did not say a word. He would let his actions speak for him — 58 times over enemy territory.

A small town boy

As a child, Lanphere was raised by his grandparents in Lyndon, Ill., a small town about 80 miles north of Peoria.

He moved in with his grandparents after his parents got divorced. His dad was an alcoholic. His mom contracted tuberculosis when he was 4 1/2 years old and put into a Springfield, Ill., hospital.

Lanphere continued to live with his grandparents even after his mom was healed and remarried.

His grandfather was employed as a section foreman with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, he recalled. His grandmother stayed at home.

Lanphere graduated from Lyndon High School.

“There were eight girls and five boys in my graduating class,” he said.

While in high school, he met his future wife, Geneva, who lived in a nearby town along the Rock River.

“I guess you can say we were high school sweethearts,” he said and smiled.

After graduating from high school in 1940, Lanphere moved to Washington, D.C., and took a civil service job, which had a $1,440 annual salary. After he worked there six months, he received a $180 pay raise.

“That was good money back then,” he said.

He and Geneva got married in 1941 and moved to Chicago.

Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, 1941, he and Geneva were watching Andy Devine perform at the Oriental Theater in downtown Chicago.

After Devine’s act, it was announced Pearl Harbor had been attacked, Lanphere recalled. It was a day he will never forget.

“I can still hardly believe it happened,” he said. “It was a very, very bad deal.”

Signing up

Lanphere enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps a day after reading a Jan. 20, 1942 article in theChicago Tribune. The article stated a married man with a high school education could now become a pilot. Up to that time, the Air Corps required all pilots to have a college degree.

Lanphere didn’t hesitate to sign up.

“Ever since I was a young kid, I wanted to become a pilot,” he said.

Shortly after earning his wings, Lanphere was sent to the South Pacific.

The War

Lanphere said he and his crewmates had to fight two enemies — the Japanese and the weather. The U.S. air base in New Guinea was located 2 degrees south of the equator, he said.

“During one mission I could not even see my wing tips for 3 1/2 hours,” Lanphere said.“And we had equatorial storms every damn day.”

Lanphere flew 58 missions before he was discharged from the service on Sept. 15, 1944.

Lanphere said his bombing unit was the only unit in U.S. World War II to fly B-26, B-25 and B-24 airplanes.

“It’s really amazing what happened (to me),” he said. “…But I was lucky. I was able to come home before (Japan) started the kamikaze stuff.”

Coming home

After serving 15 months in the South Pacific, Lanphere said he requested and was granted his discharge.

“I wanted to see my 1-year-old daughter really badly,” he said. “I still can hear my commanding officer grant my request. But he also informed me at the time, if I agreed to stay in, he would promote me to captain in three more weeks.”

Lanphere did not reconsider his decision. He boarded a ship and headed to San Francisco.

It took 21 days for the ship to make the journey. A week after arriving stateside, he took a train to Chicago. He then took a train to Sterling, Ill., where his wife and daughter, Denise, were waiting. Shortly after Lanphere got off the train, he recalled his wife asking him to hold their baby.

“I asked her how,” he said and laughed. “I never held a baby before.”

He and and Geneva, had another daughter, Jodeane, born a couple years later.

‘What I had to do’

Lanphere, who is now 95, often wonders what would have ever happened in his life if he didn’t enlist.

He also wonders what would have ever happened if World War II had a different ending.

In August 1945, Lanphere was living in Sterling, with his wife and daughter, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I’ve heard from a number of people over the years saying the U.S. should have not dropped those bombs,” he said. “But, I believe if we would have not done that, we would have lost a bunch of serviceman in Japan. They were a bunch of real fanatics.”

Lanphere said he does not consider himself a hero.

“Am I a hero, no… I just did what I had to do,” he said. “And the rest of my crew did the same thing. It was our job to save our country.”

A good life

Lanphere worked as an air traffic controller in Chicago for a number of years after he retired from the military.

After Geneva passed away, Lanphere would find love twice more.

He and his second wife, Kay, were married for about 20 years before she succumbed to breast cancer.

He later met Gladys Lampe of Highland. They were married in 2001. She died in June after battling pneumonia, he said.

“My days with Gladys were some of the happiest times of my life,” he said. “We shared a lot of things in common. We both loved to travel.”

Looking back at his life, Lanphere said he does not have any regrets. He said he has lived a good life.

He said he also enjoyed his time in the military. He said seeing the U.S. flag today means everything in the world to him.

“I’m proud of it,” he said and started to cry.

Lanphere is also proud to have served.

“…And I’d be happy to serve our country again, if I could,” he said and smiled.

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Labor of Love: Charlie’s minor league journey

 

By Mark Hodapp

It was a hard pill for Charlie Hopkins to swallow.

After spending nine seasons
in the St. Louis Browns organization,
Hopkins retired from
baseball in 1955 when he was
only 29.
“I wouldn’t take a million
dollars for the good time that I
had,” he says.
Hopkins, now 84, lives in
Columbia, Ill.
Charlie couldn’t help but
reminisce about his own playing
career after watching his
grandson, Gabe Hopkins, play
with the Waterloo High School
baseball team this spring.
A 2011 graduate, Gabe is
now playing with the Waterloo
Millers.
“The only advice I ever gave
to Gabe was just to swing the
bat,” Charlie says. “Don’t ever
get called out. That aggravates a
manager.”
For Charlie, baseball was a
labor of love.
He still loves the
game, and is sometimes its
“biggest critic.”
After graduating from Central
Catholic High School in
East Louis, Ill., in 1945, Charlie was
drafted and served in the U.S.
Navy.
Charlie was in basic training
when World War II ended, and
served 14 months.
After being discharged in
1946, he returned home and
worked as an apprentice with
the iron workers, following in
his dad’s footsteps.
He recalls his dad being un-
Browns for a $125 monthly salary
and $200 signing bonus in
1947.
Charlie was making $160 a
month as an iron worker.
“My dad didn’t think it was a
great deal,” he says.
Charlie was a catcher the
majority of his career.
However, he played in the
outfield with the Newark
Moundsmen of the Ohio State
League during his first professional
season.
Charlie, who was then 21,
had a career year. He hit .277
with 23 doubles, 17 triples, seven
home runs and 93 RBIs. He
also stole 15 bases.
He was promoted to Ada,
Okla. the following season. The
Herefords played in a rodeo
stadium, Charlie recalls.
“There wasn’t a blade of
grass,” he says. “And when the
rodeo would come to town, we
went on a road trip. When we
came home, the field was a
complete dust bowl. The guys
used to say a rabbit would have
to get its lunch across the
street.”
Charlie played with the
Springfield Barons in 1950. He
thought he had a chance to
make the big leagues that
spring.
Browns starting catcher Les
Moss underwent hemorrhoid
surgery in 1949.
But the Browns had other
ideas in mind, acquiring Sherman
Lollar from the Yankees in
a trade.
Instead of making it to the
big leagues, Charles Dewitt assigned
Hopkins to Wichita, the
Browns’ top minor league affiliate.
He played Class A ball for
two seasons.
Lollar was eventually traded
to the White Sox following the
1951 season.
In 1951, Bill Veeck purchased
the Browns.
To draw fans, Veeck gave
them “fun ‘n games.”
Veeck once asked Hopkins
to ride a white horse into a
game as part of a “Hopalong
Cassidy” promotion. Hopalong
Cassidy was a popular television
show that aired from 1952-
54.
But Charlie refused.
“I told Bill I have never rode
on a horse my life,” he says. “I
said kids would be throwing
rocks the rest of the season if
they saw me come in riding a
horse.”
Charlie never regretted his
decision.
Veeck moved the Browns to
Baltimore after the 1953 season.
Hopkins played three seasons
with the San Antonio Missions
finally before being released
after the 1954 season.
In 1955, Charlie was hired
to manage the Seminole Oilers.
“It was worse than high
school,” he says of his managing
experience.
“They didn’t have a clubhouse
or a shower. You had to
walk to a shower a block down
the street. The owner handed
out baseballs like they were
gold nuggets.”
Charlie also had many arguments
with the Seminoles owner,
who once asked Hopkins to
drive the team’s bus.
A defensive-minded catcher,
Charlie compares himself to
former St. Louis Cardinals
catcher Mike Matheny.
“I can’t say I had anybody’s
number (hitting),” he says. “But
I believe the best player I ever
played against was (former St.
Louis Cardinal third baseman)
Ken Boyer.”
Charlie once got in a fight
with Boyer during the 1954
season after a collision at home
plate.
“It seemed like we fought an
hour,” Charlie says. “But it lasted
only five minutes.”
He has no regrets about
hanging up the spikes.
Charlie says his family was
waiting for him.
“And I had to come home,
where I had a job waiting for
me,” he says.