William "Russ" Pruett

William "Russ" Pruett spent three years serving his country during World War II in the 353rd General Engineer Service Regiment.

"I was drafted on Nov. 18, 1942. What I was in was similar to the Seabees but we were in combat right near the equator," said Pruett who will be 97 later this month. "I did my basic training at Camp White. After we were finished, part of us were sent to Europe and part of us were sent to the Pacific Islands."

Pruett said while on the islands, the battalion where he served during the Philippine Campaign in the Pacific Theater of Operations, built airfields, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

"The islands are small, most were between three and seven acres. We just did what they told us to do," said Pruett who grew up near present day Crane and worked at the base after returning home from the war. "I spent a lot of time in Japan."

After the war, Pruett helped clean up Milan and assisted with building a Prisoner of War camp there.

Plato Spencer

Plato Spencer served in the Navy from June of 1944 to June 1946.

"I started in the arm guard that sailed on merchant ships," said Spencer, who turned 96 last month and lived near Switz City. "I came in on D-Day and made three trips to South America with a fleet going from New York to the South Pacific. That first trip I was in a convoy of 35 ships."

Spencer, who said it took about 30 days to get from New York to South America, said the Japanese never would have guessed what high powered communications were on board some of the ships.

"They never would have guessed those ships had all that on board," said Spencer who said when the war ended he was in Phillipines and then went on a ship to the occupation of Korea before spending six months in China prior to being discharged.

By his third trip Spencer said it was clear that the submarines wanted to sink all the tankers and ammunition ships.

"That third trip, we made it back to Florida and a sub found us," he said. "We opened it up to out run the sub and got caught in a storm. This ship was an old Norwegian ship and I thought it might break in two during that storm. I was really glad to see land when that was over."

Spencer said he spent his last 30 days in the service in China where he was able to do something most people have not — fly over the Great Wall.

"It was incredible," he said, adding that after he returned home, he and his wife farmed just outside of Worthington.

Ray Hart

From 1943 to 1946, Ray Hart served in the Navy.

"I was drafted," said Hart, 95. "I was in line at Evansville and they said they wanted 18 people for the Navy. I stepped out of the other line and they took me. I never slept a night without a bed."

Hart spent his time in the service all on one ship, the USS Knight, a destroyer that was used to protect other ships.

"I spent three years going from the U.S. to Europe and made nine trips," said Hart, who later became a teacher and principal. "About two-and-a-half years were spent in the Mediterranean. That's where I was during D-Day."

On one of those trips, the Knight's sister ship, the Doran had a cruiser run into it, cutting the ship in two.

"The compartments were sealed so the ship didn't sink but it did cut off one of the engines," said Hart, adding the ship was brought back to the U.S. to be repaired. "With only the one engine, it took us a little longer to get across the Atlantic."

Hart said as the war neared its end, the Knight was converted into a ship to drag others out of the water. Once the ship was no longer usable, it was sunk as a target off the coast of San Diego.

"They sunk it in 1967," said Hart.

While on the island of Capri, Hart said there were 80 Army personnel on the bow of the ship and 82 Italian soldiers were loaded up and taken to a prison ship.

Another time, while near Sicily, Hart said a pilot was flying over Capri an member of the Italian military shot down the plane.

"The pilot jumped out and he was riddled with bullets," said Hart. "It wasn't a very nice war."

Hart had four brothers who also served during the war.

"We had a big family. I had four brothers and five sisters. All my brothers served. Just as the war was ending, my oldest brother, who was in Patton's army, was killed. The war ended two weeks later," said Hart, who still gets teary talking about the events.

Leon Baker

Leon Baker volunteered to enlist in the Navy. His stint was pretty short though.

"I was in from 1945 to 1946. They knew I was coming so the war ended," he said with a laugh. "I quit school my junior year to join the military."

Baker, who is 91, said he completed boot camp at Great Lakes.

"At any one time, there were 90,000 sailors there," he said, adding the base is about 50 miles from Oakland, California. "After that, we went down the west coast and went through the Panama Canal. I was at Mardi Gras in 1946."

Baker was on the LSM 100, a ship that would later be sold to the Gillette company and turned into razor blades.

After that, he was placed on the USS Hayes, a luxury liner.

"The Hayes had been converted to transport troops from California to Hawaii. They had filled in the swimming pool and added guns but there were still over 100 first class rooms," said Baker, who grew up near Wheatland, worked for Nugent Farms and then ran a dairy near Loogootee. "I enjoyed every minute of it. I saw a lot of the world."

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