Editor’s note: War Stories is a new regular feature paying tribute to the veterans of Elkhart County. If you have a story to share, contact Lydia Sheaks at 574-296-5862 or Ryan Dorgan at 574-302-7283.
ELKHART — Edward Hardy, a lifelong resident of Elkhart, spent three years, six months, 23 days and 17 minutes in the U.S. Army during World War II. He remembers the amount of time spent in military service exactly — like many other details of his experience during the war.
Hardy, 92, lives in Hubbard Hill Assisted Living in Elkhart. His daughter, Carol Burgess, also of Elkhart, and grandson Jeff Eaton of South Bend joined him there Friday, Aug. 9, as he recalled his time as a soldier.
“I graduated from high school in 1941,” Hardy said Friday, looking into a garden outside his living room window. “I got a job, and I thought I was going to college. Then they announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. Everyone was really excited. ... They figured we would be at war, and of course, we were.”
Hardy continued, “I just went down and enlisted. It was April 2, 1942.”
Hardy described his time in India working as an airplane mechanic.
“What we did was keep the planes running,” Hardy said. “It really wasn’t that hard. Pilots came in from the States and we never really got to know them. We lost several people in airplane crashes, so it was a good thing you didn’t get to know your pilots.”
In a book Hardy wrote about his service, he recalled that his mechanic crew lost about two pilots each week. He said when a plane went down, mechanics would rush over to try to save the pilot. Sometimes, he said, the plane would be on fire and people on the ground weren’t able to approach it.
“I don’t think most of (the pilots) had the training to do what we wanted them to do out there,” Hardy said of the frequent plane crashes. “We had a lot of good pilots though.”
Hardy was interested in becoming a pilot himself and took several times the test required to fly. Each time he asked about going back to the United States for aviation cadet training, his commanding officer informed him he would need to stay at his current job because of a lack of personnel.
Later, during an interview for reassignment, Hardy again had the opportunity to go to aviation school. But by that time, he was too disgusted by the deaths and accidents he had witnessed. He said no, and kept working on the planes themselves until the end of the war.
Hardy spent most of his military service in India. There, animals were constantly creating miserable situations for the soldiers. He slept on an “Indian bed” — a wooden frame with hemp rope stretched out to create a cot — under mosquito netting.
There were snakes everywhere, and Hardy remembered that snakes would often lay in puddles of water around the toilet and shower areas. These facilities were made out of airplane crates. Hardy said there wasn’t much privacy, because the “walls” were just more mosquito netting.
“The mosquitoes were the worst, because of malaria,” Hardy said.
The soldiers also had encounters with bloodsucking leeches, locusts and large cockroaches.
Hardy said that food available to the soldiers was “terrible.”
“We were the furthest ones from the United States, when it came to (getting) supplies,” Hardy said. “A lot of times we ran out of stuff.”
In his book, Hardy describes evening meals of Spam, a boiled egg and an apple.
“We were always hungry when leaving the mess hall,” Hardy wrote.
He also described extreme poverty among the Indian people. People were starving to death in the streets, said Hardy, and it was common for parents to approach the soldiers with their child, begging for food. Through these rough circumstances, Hardy said he kept going because he didn’t have a choice.
“I was no different from the next guy,” Hardy said. “Everyone else kept going.”
He kept notes of things he experienced. The notes later became a book, “My Military Service During World War II,” published in 2012.
When he was discharged from the Army in 1945, Hardy took a train from California to South Bend. From there he found a bus that would take him to Elkhart.
“I asked the driver to stop on the highway near my parents house,” Hardy remembered.
He got off the bus and walked the last few steps to his home — a place he hadn’t seen in three years.
“I think I was wondering who was left,” Hardy said, remembering the thoughts going through his head on that walk. “I wondered who my friends would be and whether I still had a job. I was wondering how my folks would take me when I walked into the house. But everything turned out fine.”
Hardy later married his wife Donna. They were married for 61 years before Donna passed away five years ago. The couple raised four children in Elkhart and lived together at Hubbard Hill for a while before Donna’s death.
Hardy’s youngest child, Carol Burgess, said she doesn’t remember her father talking much about his time in the Army when she was growing up. She does remember seeing many pictures of a vaguely familiar-looking young man.
“I thought, ‘This is my dad? He’s so skinny!’” Burgess said, laughing.
Hardy’s grandson, Jeff Eaton, pointed out that Hardy still has a habit he learned in the Army — he still bangs his shoes together before he puts them on.
“That’s because (in the Army) snakes would crawl into his shoes,” Eaton said.