By Carrie Haderlie
When 11 Sheridan area World War II veterans board the Wyoming Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on May 17, their journey will be quite different from the one they made more than six decades ago. The same men took flights, ships and truck transports as far from Wyoming as
Saipan, India, Japan, Hawaii and Europe. It isn’t much comparatively, but the men will be honored and, in the most minuscule way, thanked for their bravery with a flight and visit to the World War II monument in Washington. Sheridan resident Hal Quist, 90, served as a waist gunner in the Army Air Force stationed in Deenethorpe, England, on 27 highaltitude bombing missions over Nazi Germany from Aug. 3, 1944-Aug. 20, 1945. He will take the Honor Flight. “I want to see how Washington has changed since I was there the last time, oh, 20 years ago — primarily, I want to see the war memorials,” Quist said, holding a worn journal with a green fabric cover and yellowed pages of neat handwriting. Most of the entries inside are dated from 1944 or 1945. Charles Patton, 93, went through basic training at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in
Cheyenne, was stationed in Hawaii and was present at the Battle of Saipan. He learned about the Honor Flight from a nurse at Sheridan VA Medical Center, where he lives. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a while ... I’m a tired old effer now, though,” he laughed.
The two, like many veterans of their generation, show quiet reserve when they talk about the war years. Quist’s wife of 63 years, Mertie Quist, fills in a gap in conversation. “Even though there is so much war going on, I still think of that one as the great war,” she said. “Look at the number of people mobilized for World War II compared to now. ... It doesn’t make our kids today any less heroic, but it is a different type of war going on,” her husband said. Asked if he was afraid on his missions, Quist promptly said he was too busy for fear. “You were busy all the time looking for enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft. The pilots were looking for that. ... We were in the back trying to cover the sides and the tail and the ball turret underneath it,” Quist said. “To see 1,500 B-17s going over Germany — that must have been a real demoralizing thing for the Nazis over there.”
When Patton arrived at Pearl Harbor in 1942, apprehension was in the air, he said. And when the Battle of Midway was under way in the Pacific Theater, the soldiers did not know how far the conflict might travel. “The feelings were running high. When the Battle of the Midway was going on, we didn’t know if it was going to hold or not. ... We come out victorious, but we didn’t know,” he said. Quist was among four on his aircraft to sustain wounds from German ME-109 fighters on Aug. 24, 1944. One man, the radio controller, later died from his wounds. “We were on a bomb run over Weimar, Germany. Once you get on a bomber, why, Germans know you don’t break formation for anything, so that’s why they send the pilot in with their anti-aircraft to zero in on you. ... The ME-109s came in ... and attacked us,” Quist said. “We were barely able to fly back. We had a lot of damage, and we were dropping out machine guns and everything heavy so we could clear the channel and get back to England. “We got back to England and the first base we could see, we just landed. We just barely made it, went off the runway ... the radio operator died several days later.” Quist received a Purple Heart for his wounds much later and, at the time, completed 22 more missions before V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. Patton acknowledged that he was lucky during the Battle of Saipan in the summer of 1944. “The first night we got off the ship ... we got off into water about like that,” he said, motioning waist high. “There wasn’t no trucks there, nothing, to take us anywhere. We proceeded to carry as much stuff as we had. “We walked in maybe three miles, and that’s where we decided to stay for the night. It was right near the little locomotive track for (sugar) cane over there. “About 9 o’clock that night, I heard the Japanese plane a-comin. You could tell by the sound of them. He was following the track. The moon was shining bright and he was following that track. “He knew we were there and he dropped the bomb right there. I tried to dig down into the ground, but I couldn’t get down into the ground. There was only about that much soil,” he said, fingers apart an inch or two. “I laid out flat….Boy, it was a bloody mess the next morning.” Patton said. “I was lucky. If it would have hit me in the head. I’d have probably been over the hill. There were planes around all the time.” Both men returned to Wyoming married and had children Both become quiet when asked what people should know, what people should remember, about their generation. “Oh I don’t know.” Quist said, thoughtful and humble. “I don’t think that people of today have any comprehension of what war involves really… they are rapidly disappearing, the World War II veterans.” Patton said he never could quite figure out why it took 60 year for the World War II Memorial to be erected in Washington. Nonetheless, he said, he is proud of his service. “I wouldn’t want to do it all over again, but I would if necessary.” He said.