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World War II Veteran Robert Hampton
Interview with WWII Veteran, Mr. Robert Hampton
“It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” Tom Brokaw said this about the generation that grew up during the Depression and lived through World War II. This is an interview with World War II veteran Robert Hampton to get a first-hand account from one of the “greatest generation.”
What was your childhood like in those years before you fought in World War II?
It was pleasant; I grew up in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains near a town called Gallax, Virginia. As I was growing up I helped out on my family’s farm. I was an only child so I wanted to play with other children my age.
What was your house like?
My house was a fairly good-sized house. It was two stories, with a long steep stairway. The second story was a real floor compared to just a loft. It did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. The farm had a hand pump well. I remember clearly it was 90 feet deep. We did have a cooling system about a half a mile away from the house. I went to it half a dozen times a day to bring cooled milk or the likes to the main house. The house did not have toilets or bathtubs. I had an outhouse and I remember it wasn’t fun at all when it came time to clean them. My family collected rainwater in big steel rain barrels. After a couple years my mother had saved enough money from her teaching job to buy a more modern house. The valley was beautiful but my father had a hard time with it because his father was the first Hampton to live in Virginia and he founded Hampton Valley. So there was a lot of family history there and my father had a hard time leaving it.
What were your favorite activities growing up?
My favorite toy was “the little round ball” I would bounce it off the chimney and that was my main entertainment. If I had other opportunities I would have rather played with other children. That was one of the reasons I liked school so much. I got to play with other children during recess. Ahh marbles. There were at least two, three, or four years where marbles were the center of my life. There is this special way to hit the marbles you can’t hit the instinctive way to flip it with your thumb. You have to put it on the tip of your forefinger and the knuckle of your thumb. You get more accuracy, but it’s hard to do. One year I was competing with other kids and I was losing marbles. I don’t know how I had enough marbles to lose but I decided I didn’t like that. I never did like to lose, I was always competitive, and I liked to win. I’m like Charlie Brown; “Winning isn’t everything but losing isn’t anything.” And I certainly felt that way, and besides I didn’t want to lose my marbles. So one year when I was about ten or eleven I took the whole winter and practiced hour after hour to master this technique. That was one of my biggest pleasures at school. And reading. Children today may not consider reading playtime but to me reading was one of my favorite things to do.
What were you doing when the U.S. went to war?
I finished school six months before the United States entered the war. I signed into the Navy in 1941, right after Pearl Harbor. However they did not call me into service until April. In the six months before I went into the navy, I worked as an engineer at the soil conservation service. There had been a terrible drought and we were supposed to find different techniques for saving our soil from deteriorating.
Did you get drafted into the war?
I signed in after the December 7th Pearl Harbor and I enlisted in the Navy December 30. I signed in a couple months before they drafted but I knew I was on the draft list. There was one thing I did not like about that, living in the fox holes and eating poor rations, so instead I decided to enlist in the navy. In April they called me to just get accustomed to navy life at Notre Dame Academy. Then they wanted me to spend a couple months in New York to get a commission.
What did you think of the events happening over in Europe?
I had such an interest in history and I knew this was history in the making. I was reading Newsweek and Times. I was following the outbreak in Europe and Poland especially. We knew that it was a great challenge and a war the people had different opinions. Some people felt that a war that was breaking out in such a large scale over in Europe was not our affair and we should not get embroiled. Evidently President Roosevelt did not share that viewpoint; he had close relations with Winston Churchill and undoubtedly before we got into the war knew he was feeling that we would have to get involved. Other people like Charles Lindberg who’s been over to Germany and seen how much military power Germany had felt that we better not mess with it. At that time I was a little bit sympathetic towards Lindberg and that we didn’t have any business there. Of course at that time we didn’t know about the abuse of Jews by the Germans.
What was your reaction to Pearl Harbor?
I was shocked, just like many other people. Some people debate whether the demand for war was unanimous.
What was it like for the people who stayed home?
It was hard times. There was rationing and those who remained at home were suffering. I was lucky; I was never away from the states for more than a few months at a time. People at home would run out of food but because I was in the military, I never ran out of steak. Women and children went to work in war factories instead of the men. They weren’t even allowed to drive cars to work they had to walk. There were people leaving their careers to help out with the war effort. You saved everything. The whole country was into war support and effort. This was not just a volunteer job - this was a lifestyle.
Were you afraid of attacks on the U.S.?
People were afraid Japan would try to invade the west coast. We did have blackouts. However, the bombs didn’t affect us like they did in Europe. People were living for today because they might be sent of to Europe the next day.
What was Pearl Harbor like?
For almost a year I was in service with the navy in and out of San Francisco, going from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor in our destroyers. My first impression on Pearl Harbor was that it was hot. I didn’t get to see much of the destruction from the bombing, but it was still there.
What was your reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb?
I must have heard about it nearly right after it happened. I was shocked that there was even such a weapon. There was a big debate whether it was needed. We felt the Japanese deserved it. That had a part to do with the fact that the Japanese were so brutal in their attacks to the U.S.
Did you agree with the decision to drop the bomb?
With great reluctance, yes I do. It would have been better if we had not used it. To sympathize with Harry Truman, under the circumstances, it was a justified decision. America wanted the war to end.
Are there any personal observations you would like to make about the war with Japan and the years following it?
During the Pacific war, the Japanese were very brutal in their attacks. The American citizens had a passionate hatred for the Japanese. However, a year or two after the war, that hatred had dissipated. Now today’s generation has a fixation with Japan and their culture. I even have a grandchild who is married to a Japanese man and she lives and works there.