Revelations in the Dark

Revelations in the Dark

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Revelations in the Dark

Growing up in the late 20th century has separated me from feelings of fear and woe, which are closely tied together with war. In my lifetime, the United States has come closest to an extended conflict of the same caliber as World War II on only two occasions. These occasions would, of course, be the Persian Gulf War and the September 11th attacks. Knowing this, it is obvious that I won't be able to fully express how one feels during times of extended conflict. Times where death seems imminent and victory far away are all but unknown to me. It is safe to say that I grew up in a relatively peaceful time, though what I do know of war is far too dark. War is a frenzy of pain that no one should ever have to face. Through history lessons, historically accurate movies/documentaries, and what I've witnessed from the conflicts in my time have taught me a great deal about what war really is. However, only from those directly involved in an extended conflict will ever truly be able to get a grasp on what war is.

Chester Hornback entered into the U.S. military in March of 1945. He was drafted despite being turned down by the Air Force in 1935 for being too short and lightweight. At the time he weighed in at only 128 pounds. And so near the end of World War II Hornback entered into the army and left his wife at home. After basic training he was placed into a tank destroyer unit. At the time it was normal practice for everyone inside a tank to open their mouths while the tank fired so that the pressure on their ears would be relieved. However, during a training exercise Hornback forgot to open his mouth. His ears bled and his hearing was damaged forever. Unfortunately for him, not so much that he would be given a discharge from service.

In September of 1945 Hornback arrived in Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan. He would describe it as a dreadful place. It would rain almost everyday, but it would never get cold. Okinawa is hot much like California only with far more humidity. Native to this weather was a tropical landscape, which covered the small island. Of course, Okinawa wasn't a deserted isle by any means. It was actually a very functioning home to many, but most of their homes were reduced to rubble during the massive fighting between U.

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S. and Japanese soldiers during April, May, and June of 1945. When Hornback arrived there were only military bases and the remnants of a battlefield. Debris and damaged vehicles littered the landscape and the few buildings still standing were heavily damaged.

After reporting to a commanding officer, Hornback was removed from the tank destroyers and put in charge of a machine shop. On top of that, he was given the rank of Buck Sergeant. Though taken away from his friends in the tank destroyers, Hornback was pleased to have extended time to himself. He worked alone in the machine shop and would for the remainder of his time in Okinawa. Occasionally he would work with others on various tasks, but for the most part he kept to his own work and did his best to fix or duplicate items that were needed for the bases on the island. Most of the time he would work on small projects such as repairing door latches, but every now and then he would be required to work on something far more advanced. More often than not in such occasions he would have to order new parts. He was placed in charge of the machine shop by his commanding officer because he had worked in such a shop back in the states. Hornback had not worked in the shop very long and only made one part continuously, but he was the only one with such experience.

In 1946 Hornback was given yet another door latch to repair. By this time it had become quite an easy task. Not having any other repairs scheduled for the day he decided to deliver the latch himself. It wasn't too far, 15 minutes tops via jeep. Because the war had ended just months ago there was less necessity to travel with others, but soldiers were encouraged to be cautious in case there were forgotten Japanese snipers in the area. After getting clearance to take a jeep to the north end of the island Hornback headed off across the damp landscape. It had just rained moments before and now the ground was quite muddy, making it difficult to maneuver the jeep.

After a few minutes the wind began to pick up. Hornback sped up a bit, anxious to get out of the wind. The rain started to pick up again soon after. Foregoing a light sprinkle the clouds threw rain down hard. Reducing speed, Chester took a look at his surroundings, noticing the dark clouds overhead that stretched on far past what he could see. Hornback became worrisome as the wind picked up even more. Rain drops were traveling almost completely sideways and caused pain when they came into contact with his skin.

Hornback came to a particularly sharp turn and the jeep got stuck in a pothole on the road. He struggled with the jeep for a bit. Continuously shifting to reverse and back to 1st gear accomplished little. At this time the wind screamed and bent trees at its will. A slight sense of fear crept into Hornback's mind as he frantically searched his surroundings. There, nestled by a hill, was a damaged Japanese tank. He ditched the jeep and ran as fast as the wind would let him. The tank was quite damaged, but it would shelter Hornback better than anything else in the immediate area. He struggled a moment with the hatch on top, but it soon gave and quickly he got inside. Closing the hatch once inside was difficult, but once he did it got dark.

Inside the tank was not pitch black thanks to the various holes in the side, but his eyes did have to take some time to adjust. The sound of the wind had not died down at all and was now accompanied with an annoying whistling sound. Hornback studied his surroundings. He couldn't discern what sort of tank it was, but all the equipment appeared to be charred. It was a rather small tank and because of the damage done to it there really was only room for him. He sat silently in the only remaining chair of the tank and took in what had just happened. He had heard of no weather warnings that day so this couldn't be as bad as . . . He shuddered to think about it. However, his thoughts brought him back over to it. Hornback remembered the trip over there on the boat. They were hit by a typhoon while at sea. They were caught right in the thick of it. At first it was just a violent rocking of the ship. He gripped the edges of his top bunk and overheard the men vomiting beneath him. Hornback silently chuckled to himself as he remembered the luck of having the top bunk. It was bad enough to go through a typhoon, but to be vomited on as well? The most horrific moment of that night was when he could actually hear the top of the ship being torn off by the fierce winds. It was like a gigantic ripping sound, only the sound steel makes when ripped apart from the rest is much different than from fabric. He was so thankful to be alive that next morning. When he could see the damage done to the ship and that a nearby LST had sunk the realization hit him that he might never come home. Upon that realization he had reread letters from his wife, Pauline. Oh how he missed her so. Right now he wished he had his letters with him. They would provide great comfort in such a time of stress. Hornback was fearful that the tank would be blown away. If this storm was a typhoon he saw no reason why he wouldn't be incredibly harmed if the top of a massive vessel were blown off by soaring winds.

Typhoons occur in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. These storms are basically hurricanes that lack some of the key elements that make a hurricane, such as the location they form and what directions they travel. Typhoons are a cyclone like storm that brings dangerously high winds speed with it. In what is known as the eye of the storm there is an eerie calmness, but outside of the eye there is severe danger. It is most fortunate when the side of a typhoon hits an island as opposed to it moving over the island full force.

The storm lasted a long time. Hornback actually felt cold before too long and was forced to curl up on the chair. His mind wandered like mad and he felt the darkness of the tank consume him. It was in this tank that Chester Hornback came to understand the experience of combat during war time. At this moment he feared for his life and prayed for the storm to end. His thoughts repeatedly shifted from Pauline to the devastated island of Okinawa and back again. He remembered first seeing the battlefield and how he felt like tearing up at the sight. So much devastation and pain that must've been suffered so he could walk around base freely and without care. He had avoided the hospital and POW camp as much as possible. He wanted as little to do with this war as possible, but he was unable to avoid seeing the wounded and captured. It was surprising to Hornback that any Japanese soldiers were captured at all. He knew that most ran off of what came to be known as "Suicide Bluff" to avoid capture and die with what they believe to be honor. When he saw the bones at the bottom of the bluff he was stricken with fear. He had not been directly involved, but he had seen the aftermath and it scared him to death.

And now, in the darkness of the tank he could not fight the urge to weep. The gravity of his current predicament and the environment he had to live in hit him full force. What he had seen had disgusted him and in the deep recesses of the tank he could see his own death and how it would pass on pain to others just as the deaths of those he hadn't known. The thought hurt him inside.

Death is tragic and war brings the deaths of thousands and perhaps millions. Buck Sergeant Chester Hornback broke down inside that tank. His new lifestyle had become too much for him. He had never seen combat, but he had seen the results and he was sick of it. However, after the storm died down and he stepped out of the tank he locked his feelings up just as any good solider would do. Hornback had a job to do and no matter how small it may have seemed the lives of many may have depended on it.

Before I had interviewed Chester Hornback I must admit I was eager to hear combat stories. I felt they would be more exciting to translate to text, but after digging deep into my great uncle Hornback I could see why he was so bothered by his experience in World War II. I had always assumed he had seen combat, but I was wrong.

Chester Hornback's story is an interesting one, but it has not changed my overall opinion on war at all. I had already thought of war as absolutely horrible and in conducting this interview I only solidified my beliefs. However, I am glad that I was able to learn more about my great uncle's past. I was also able to get past my misconceptions that only soldiers with combat experience were deeply affected by war. War affects everyone in different ways, but the conclusion is always the same. War is hell.
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