Pipestone man served in Africa during World War II
PIPESTONE -- With the exception of his 42 months in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, 90-year-old Loren Hubner has spent his entire life within a quarter-mile stretch of farmland on the northwest side of Pipestone.
It was the Air Force, he said, that allowed him to see the world, alongside the good and bad of a war between nations.
"I'm happy that I was in," he said. "I saw so much of the world, and I was treated really good. I wouldn't have liked to have thought that I missed out on it."
Hubner's war story began when, at age 22, he received a letter from Uncle Sam notifying him of his newly drafted status. He reported for duty at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, on March 7, 1942, and was then transferred to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., for basic training. He was eventually moved to Barksdale Field, La., before taking a train ride to New York to be shipped overseas.
"I was on advanced detail for the Aquitania, that was a sister to the Lusitania," said Hubner.
The RMS Aquitania was first launched on April 21, 1913, as a great oceanliner. It was nicknamed the Ship Beautiful. The ship was designed for conversion as an armed cruiser, and was thus put to use by the U.S. government during both World War I and World War II. She survived both wars and went on to serve once again as a passenger ship after World War II.
Hubner was among thousands of soldiers to board the Aquitania in New York for a 42-day, zigzagging excursion across the Atlantic Ocean in August 1942.
"We got out of New York, we was out three days and the ship hit waves that were like mountains," he said. "It just rocked and rolled -- people were getting seasick. It didn't bother me too much until I'd see someone else get seasick."
The worst part about the six weeks at sea wasn't the rocking, however, it was the food, said Hubner.
"The kind of food we had was just deplorable on that ship. They'd give us oatmeal and if you'd look at it closely, it had maggots in it," he shared. "In the last few days, they called on a few of us to do KP for the British officers. You should have seen what we ate then -- we had turkey and ice cream and everything."
Hubner recalled a warning issued when they left the port at New York, essentially telling the soldiers that they should "not take over the ship and get unruly because it was going to its destination, no matter what happened."
Hubner was among thousands of troops serving in the North African and Italian campaigns during World War II. Their role was to assist allies in the defeat of the Axis Alliance.
On its journey into the war zone, the RMS Aquitania made a brief stop at Cape Town, South Africa, before the soldiers headed northward into Egypt.
For seven months, Hubner was stationed on the Suez Canal, guarding B-24 and B-17 Flying Fortresses. He also volunteered for KP duty as a way to earn extra money.
Once their mission was complete on the Suez Canal, the soldiers were transferred once again -- this time via truck convoy to Sousse, Tunisia, in northern Africa.
"We made 100 miles a day, and it took us 14 days to get (there)," said Hubner.
Eventually, the troops traveled to Sicily, where Hubner became sick and was diagnosed with infectious Hepatitis. He spent a month in a hospital in Catania, Sicily, before being flown back to North Africa for a three-month hospital stay.
With the all-clear, Hubner rejoined his unit in Italy, where the Rome-Arno Campaign was under way.
Where dangers lurk
Hubner spent a year stationed on the island of Corsica, where every once in a while they could get a decent radio signal to hear Axis Sally propaganda voiced over the airwaves.
"We heard them say, 'We're coming over to bomb you tonight,' and they did," said Hubner. "We had to be on the lookout all the time.
"When they gave them warnings, like Axis Sally, they would carry those bombings out. It was always dangerous," he added. "There were revolvers and guns laying around where the fighting ended. You didn't want to pick them up, they were booby-trapped. You could get your hand blowed off."
In Sicily, the troops had to watch out for the mine fields, and in Anzio, Italy, after the fighting had ended, Hubner talked of seeing tanks blasted apart with the dead still laying out in the open.
"I saw so much destruction there," he said.
Hubner's primary job during World War II was to aid in requisitioning supplies, although he spent a good share of his time on guard duty as well. His job was to fill requests for airplane parts, which were stored in large trailers on the bases where they stayed.
His nights were spent in a variety of structures, depending on what was available. Sometimes it was a wooden barracks, others it was in a portion of a building that was damaged in the war. They also slept in tents from time to time.
"We used to heat our tents with aviation fuel," Hubner said. "We had a five gallon can outside the tent with a little tube that ran inside and dripped on some bricks. That would heat the tent. Some guys burnt their tent up doing that."
During his 36-month overseas deployment, Hubner kept in contact with his parents back in Pipestone County.
"I wrote them all the time and they wrote to me," he said. "We'd just write across the corner 'FREE' -- no stamp, you know.
"One time, when I was in Rome, I called home and talked to my dad. They had the old country line out here at that time," Hubner shared. "It cost me $12 to call from Rome. When I come home out of the Army, one of my neighbors over here said, 'I was just as interested in it as your dad was. It was a (party) line, so they could hear what I was saying too."
In his letters home, Hubner shared the stories of his adventures, not only of war, but of seeing the world.
"I stayed so many different places," he said.
Hubner and his fellow soldiers would often submit requests to their commanding officer to leave base during the times they weren't scheduled to work. Those times away from base were spent touring the sights and visiting cities that Hubner had only read about while growing up in Minnesota.
He toured the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, spent time on the Nile River, stayed one night in Bethlehem and visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Hubner and his fellow soldiers were preparing to carry out orders to "go and fight the Japs in the Pacific" when the war ended and they were finally told they were going home.
"I was over there so long I actually thought I would never get home again," he said. "It all seems like a dream now, when I think back."
The Victory ship SS Isaac Sharpless brought Hubner, who by then had earned the rank of Corporal, and his fellow soldiers home. The voyage to New York lasted a mere 19 days, after which he was sent on to Camp McCoy, Wis., for his honorable discharge in October 1945.
He returned home to Pipestone County and enrolled in agriculture classes to take advantage of his educational credits earned in the military.
"I went back to farming and I got married in 1948," said Hubner, who has been married to wife Lila for nearly 62 years.