92-year-old veteran recalls WWII officer program

By on November 10, 2016
World War II veteran Dick Hershey is shown with Joey III, his shih-tzu.  Photo by Preston Whitcraft

World War II veteran Dick Hershey is shown with Joey III, his shih-tzu.
Photo by Preston Whitcraft

For World War II Veteran Dick Hershey, Veterans Day and Washington’s birthday both have special meaning to him.

The 92-year-old Hershey grew up in Manheim, but for the past year, has lived in Ephrata at Keystone Villa Retirement Community.

“I was born on Washington’s birthday in 1925,” Hershey said from his private room last Friday. “I told my son Jeff that I can’t be on my own anymore, so I sold my home in Hagerstown (Maryland) and started looking for a place to live.”

The significance of Hershey’s birthdate is that when he graduated from Manheim High School (now Manheim Central) in 1943, and he was an 18-year-old male, smack in the middle of World War II.

“I think we all figured this (the war) would all be over before we got out of high school,” said Hershey. “It turned out that it wasn’t.”

“The war was going full bore when I graduated,” added Hershey. “As soon as I graduated, I went into the recruiting office and signed up. I enlisted for a selfish reason. I wanted to pick where I wanted to be. If you waited to be drafted, they’ll put you in the Army. My choice was Navy.”

Because of the enormity of the military operation required for World War II, Hershey received training in a new facility and a new officer development system. Both were created after the war started.

His first Navy stop was basic training in Sampson, New York, where Hershey was one of over 410,000 who trained on Seneca Lake in the three years of operation at that facility. Sampson Training Station was built only one year before at a cost of $56 million.

“After I got out of basic training, I was in the Hospital Corp,” Hershey said. “Mostly in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. I think that’s why they thought I would want to be a doctor. Most of the men I was helping were injured in the war. Some of them lost limbs. I was just an 18-year-old kid, putting new limbs on other kids, not much older than me.”

His second assignment was courtesy of the new V-12 Officer Training program.

“I was part of that program,” Hershey said. “When you were accepted, you took a three hour examination (aptitude test). If you passed, they told you what school (college) you were going to. Some guys were sent to little schools. Then they said the final two of us were going to MIT. I thought ‘oh, that isn’t bad.’”

“I told my high school principle about it,” said Hershey. “He was thrilled. He said they never had a boy from Manheim go to MIT.”

Hershey said in addition to all the scholastic stuff, it was like going to Annapolis (Naval Academy).

“They sounded reveille at about 5:30 in the morning,” he said. “After reveille, there were calisthenics, then breakfast. Then we proceeded to our classes. We all had to take a few tours of guard duty in the evening. At least half of the students at MIT at the time (1943-45’) were part of the V-12 program.”

Hershey said they lived in the Graduate House.

“The whole Navy contingent was there,” he said. “The four years were compressed into about two and a half years. The regular Navy people considered us odd-balls. We were in the Navy but we were students. When the war ended in 1945, they told us we could do whatever we wanted.”

With the completion of his studies, Hershey was promoted to the rank of Ensign and released from his Navy obligation. He completed the final semester required for his degree at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.

“The first thing I did was to change to chemical engineering,” said Hershey. “Which is what I wanted to do in the first place.”

His career took him to DuPont in Philadelphia.

“I was in the Fabrics and Finishing Division, which was paint,” Hershey said.

Married during his two years at DuPont, Hershey and first wife, Lucille, moved to Hagerstown where he took a job with Grove World Wide.

“That’s who I spent most of my time with,” he said. “They made big yellow cranes. I was their chemical engineer and handled all of their hazardous waste.”

Hershey has a book published in 1987 by a former classmate and V-12 program graduate, James G. Schneider. It is called ‘The Navy V-12 Program — Leadership for a Lifetime’. The inscription inside the cover reads: “To Dick Hershey. Fellow V-12. Here’s the full story behind one of the great times of our lives. Enjoy! -Jim Schneider

The hardback cover also reveals a peek at the content of the book. “The story of the Navy’s largest World War II officer training program in partnership between the U.S. Navy and 131 American colleges and universities that produced 60,000 Navy and Marine Corp officers.”

Although 11 of the 13 members of his MIT unit are deceased, Hershey is still in touch with the only other survivor.

“His name is Robert (Bob) Boomer. He was a doctor and lives in Wisconsin. I just talked to him the other day. It’s hell when everybody around you dies off,” he said.

Hershey also reflected on his love of dogs (he’s had at least a dozen, starting when he was five) and the theatre (he still has season tickets to the Hershey Theatre).

“My doctor says that I need to keep walking him,” he said, and points to Joey III, a Shih-Tzu who shares his Ephrata apartment.

And with Veterans Day being observed this Friday, Hershey has strong feelings about the federal holiday.

“Having been in the Navy, you feel very close to it. I get a little upset when I see things going on at the VA. I wrote a letter to the editor not too long ago when Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for the National Anthem. It pissed me off.”

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