Jasper veteran becomes one of the last to go on Honor Flight from Birmingham
by Jennifer Cohron
Nov 22, 2010 | 1050 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
William Sanford O’Rear and his son, Julius, during their recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. (Photo Special to the Eagle)
William Sanford O’Rear and his son, Julius, during their recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. (Photo Special to the Eagle)
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William Sanford O'Rear was 15 years old when the United States entered World War II.

He assumed that he would never be called to serve because the draft age was 21. Then an act of Congress lowered it to 18 in 1942.

O'Rear received his notice in October 1943, the fall semester of his senior year. He had already prepared to graduate in December by going to summer school.

The principal offered to get a deferment for the young men who had been drafted so they could complete the semester. One young man made a fateful decision and didn't accept.

"A guy from Boldo went in after October when we got our first notice. He was killed in May of '44 in France. He was the only one in my graduating class who got killed," O'Rear said.

The young man's mother paid to have her son's body shipped home so that he could be buried in Boldo.

O'Rear was inducted in January 1944 and went to Miami Beach for Air Force training.

Any dreams O'Rear had of being a pilot were quickly dashed.

"About the time that I started basic training, the war was ending in the Atlantic and they were just making pilots out of the ones who made the highest scores," O'Rear said.

O'Rear didn't make the minimum test grade of 95 that was required to become a pilot. He was sent to gunnery school in Texas instead.

However, he and another young man from Birmingham were dismissed when they failed to follow instructions during a training session.

"There was something wrong with the headsets in the plane. We couldn't understand the instructions, but they washed us both out," O'Rear said.

After that, O'Rear was sent to Salt Lake City and then to Seattle, where he was put on a ship bound for Hawaii.

He worked for 10 months in the supply office there. His responsibilities included clerical duties and typing.

O'Rear had unknowingly trained for his new job as a civilian.

"The last semester in school, I had a choice of taking geometry or typing. I took just one semester of typing but built up to 50 words a minute," he said.

He also spent some time in supply offices in Guam and the Philippines.

In Guam, O'Rear was looking for seashells near a harbor where the soldiers often went swimming when he came upon two Japanese soldiers who had not been captured.

One was fishing and the other was standing guard behind a large rock.

O'Rear thought they were Americans until he got a closer look at them. One spoke to him.

"He asked me if I was hunting shells. He spoke enough English that I could understand him," O'Rear said.

O'Rear doesn't know what happened to the men. He didn't report them because he had been in a restricted area too far up the beach.

The only time O'Rear was given a gun during the war was after President Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945.

"They had taken all of our weapons from us when we went to Hawaii because there wasn't any fighting there. Then they had to issue us some carbines to carry for a ceremony after Roosevelt died," O'Rear said.

ORear was discharged from the military in April 1946.

His oldest brother went in after him but got out before because he got extra points for having a wife and a child.

O'Rear spent some time with him during the war when the Navy ship his brother was serving on docked in Hawaii for a few days.

"There happened to be a vacant bunk right by my brother, so I got some time off from the supply office and stayed three days on the ship," he said.

O'Rear recently spent a day remembering his service with other World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. in October.

O'Rear's son, Julius, was his escort.

The Oct. 27 trip was one of the last for the Honor Flight program in Birmingham. Other Honor Flight chapters in Huntsville and Montgomery closed this year.

More World War II veterans are dying every day, and some are becoming too ill to make the flights even though they have been accepted for the program.

O'Rear encouraged any local veterans who want to go to apply.

"If you can get in a wheelchair, they've got plenty of people to help you around," O'Rear said.