Monday, November 10, 2014

TOP STORY >> WWII veteran, 93, reflects

Leader staff writer

Second World War veteran Bill Schoonover, 93, of Cabot recalled his time in China, Burma and India during the war.

Schoonover joined the Cabot American Legion Post 71 in August. He is its oldest member. He has been a Legionnaire for 67 years. 

Schoonover was in the Army from Dec. 1942 to May 1946. He enlisted because he was single and 21 years old. He had a cousin and two brother-in-laws working on farms and they had families.

“When you go into the service, go in with the idea of having a good time, or you’re going to be miserable,” Schoonover said.

Schoonover was born in Guthrie Center, Iowa. His dad was a veteran of the First World War, who operated a lumberyard.

Schoonover had two roles in the Army. He was a truck driver and in the signal corps. He handled communications coding and de-coded messages, some that were top secret.

“We knew everything that was going on,” Schoonover said.

“It got to be funny seeing the original message by the war correspondent and how it changed after it appeared in Stars and Stripes (newspaper),” he said.

Schoonover recalled leaving boot camp in April 1943. The soldiers spent 31 days onboard a ship that took them to Australia and westward to Calcutta, India.

“Our camp was in the middle of the jungle. At night you could see jackals and lions from your tent,” Schoonover said.

He remembered spending a few weeks in India before moving on to Kunming, China, for three months and then to Shanghai, China.

He recalled a plane ride over the Himalayan Mountains. The plane ran into turbulence and fell 1,000 feet in a few seconds. Schoonover said the mountains came up fast.

“I drove a six-by-six truck on the Burma Road from India to China trying to get gas and supplies into China. Once was enough. The drop-off was 5,000-feet on some of those corners,” Schoonover said.

In Shanghai, the signal corps lived in a German school and worked three miles away. Schoonover said they did not leave base to go into town.

Schoonover said the signal corps’ job was to set up an incription machine to code message. War correspondences were sent as soon as they were written, 99-percent were coded.

“Some nights we were covered up with messages and others were no messages,” Schoonover said.

He was amazed at how fast technology has made sending messages.

“It was a lot different than it is now,” Schoonover said.

After the war Schoonover returned to Iowa in May, 18 1946. He got married on June 30 to his wife, Norma. They were married for 67 years until her passing. They had a son, Clark, and a daughter, Beth. He also has five grandchildren.

Schoonover said he wanted to be a farmer, but since he was born and raised in the city, no one would rent a farm to him. He worked at his family’s lumberyard, then was a truck driver and later owned an upholstery business for 20 years.

Schoonover moved to Arkansas in 1978 and moved to Cabot in 2000 to be closer to family.