Harding grad was prepared to serve during World War II

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

CHAMPION – Despite his ailing parents, Harry A. Bobco Jr., 93, was prepared to serve his country.

But before he could leave the United States for Japan, the war was over.

Drafted in March 1943, the Warren G. Harding High School graduate said he was skeptical to leave his parents who were both ill at the time. Luckily, he had family members in the area who were willing to help while Bobco was gone.

“Like anyone … if (the Army) wants you, you gotta go,” Bobco said. “I always felt I had to serve my country.”

Bobco said he feels “no bitterness” after serving three years in the Army. If anything, he said his overall experience was a positive one.

Prior to the end of World War II in August 1945, he spent several months in basic training, preparing in anticipation for combat. Though active fighting came to a close, Bobco said the work in Japan did not.

Bobco landed in Osaka, Japan, with the 390th Infantry 98th Division as part of the occupying force.

“We were there as a peacekeeping force,” he said. “They needed more help.”

Much of Bobco’s service was training and instructing men to operate anti-tank guns. As a non-commissioned officer, he instructed and commanded a platoon of 36 men in the use of 75-millimeter anti- tank guns, 76-millimeter anti-tank guns and 3-inch anti-tank guns.

For the first two weeks, Bobco said the men used their training to patrol the area, about 40 to 50 miles north of Nagasaki, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb.

Bobco said the Japanese city’s eerie landscape made the soldiers wary of the fallout. Though some areas were described to Bobco as “safe,” he and his men did not stray and kept their distance from the devastation.

Instead, Bobco spent his time capitalizing on the construction skills he learned while working with his dad prior to the war. Bobco said after he requested work from the sergeant, their captain asked Bobco to use carpentry to build man-doors on plants where the tanks and airplanes were stored.

Bobco said at the time, the only door was the main one that let the aircraft in and out, but it also let the cold air flow throughout. He said the city’s airfield and planes were banged up by the nearby bomb and many Japanese workers already were enlisted to clean up the site.

He quickly recruited the locals to help construct three or four doors, using found piles of wood. Bobco said he developed empathy for the Japanese men he worked with, some who had nothing.

“The men never had enough to eat at the time,” he said.

Following one long grueling day of work, Bobco said he found his new carpenters going through the garbage searching and eating kitchen throwaways. He said he quickly grabbed one of them, motioning him to follow.

When Bobco addressed his sergeant about the food thrown away each day, the officer explained the kitchen couldn’t keep the food or allow it to sour at risk of harming a soldier. Bobco said he then explained to his sergeant that he found the men going through the trash, eating the garbage, and asked if there was anything he could do.

The next day, Bobco said, they served the workers lunch in the mess hall and even sent them home with extras.

“It was nice on his part,” Bobco said. “These guys were hungry and appreciated it.”

Following five months in Japan and three years in the service, Bobco returned home, honorably discharged as a sergeant first class in March 1946. Before the war, he worked at American Welding and Manufacturing Co. for seven months, inspecting and testing machinery for flaws.

When he returned to the states, he met his wife of 68 years, Ann, and started working for the former H.K. Porter, now Peerless Electric Co., as a chief quality control manger, retiring after 42 years.

Bobco said assisting his carpenter father and working one-on-one with the Japanese locals during the war prepared him for work back home. Especially, he said, when H.K. Porter received foreign visitors requesting a look at the products. Bobco said he knew basic foreign languages and often used them to break the ice.

amanna@tribtoday.com