Local veterans recall serving in war at a young age
STEPHENS CITY — When Zane Kermit Webster, now 94, first landed on a South Pacific island in 1941, he was expecting a quiet first night.
But hours later, he was facing the fire of Japanese soldiers, who were one island over among a cluster of small islands.
“We were on the first one, the Japanese were on the second,” Webster said. “We didn’t know that then, but we did that night.”
Webster and a Korean War veteran, Bill Scott, spoke Friday of their wartime experiences serving in the military.
Their interviews come in advance of Memorial Day and ahead of a June 10 and June 11 event for World War II veterans that Phil Fravel, a Clemson University agricultural education professor who owns a private museum of military history, holds every year. They were interviewed at Fravel’s museum.
Webster, who was only 13 years old at the time, was given orders to build a foxhole near the water on the small, 1-mile by 2-mile island. The purpose was to protect him and his fellow soldiers in the Navy from the bombs of the Japanese.
“Some of [the bombs] hit the water and every time it hit the foxhole,” Webster said.
Webster originally joined the Navy because of two things: the naval uniforms and the potential to fly an airplane. A neighbor had a uniform that he fell in love with.
Meanwhile, he said that he loved the idea of flying an airplane.
“I didn’t like the war, but I loved airplanes,” Webster said.
Because he was only 13 at the time, he needed his mother’s approval in order to enlist, something that he fought hard for and eventually got. At just 103 pounds, he was so small at the time that the Navy ran into difficulties finding a uniform for him.
Webster attended Hanley High School for some period of time but never graduated; he went to work after finishing his service.
Over the years, Webster has let go of parts of the military, physically and mentally. He briefly tried flying in a club out of the airport in Winchester, taking some lessons.
But after flying in military bombers, the speed of the cheap civilian aircraft the club used was not sufficient for Webster, and the cost of faster planes was too prohibitive on his budget.
“I wanted something fast, but it was too expensive,” Webster said.
Meanwhile, he’s pushed aside some of the harder memories of parts of the war. All of the 13 members of his squadron survived the war, but he still has memories of hard times from that time in his life.
“It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten about a lot of stuff that you don’t want to remember,” Webster said. “You want to forget.”
Still, even after six years of service, serving as a rear gunner in a Navy bomber, Webster wanted to keep serving in the military. The only thing that got him to stop was his mother’s illness.
That experience of coming into war at a young age and experiencing trauma but harboring no regrets is reflected in the story of Bill Scott, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War.
Scott went to the National Guard in Oklahoma, where he grew up, when he was a junior in high school.
He wanted to join the military because the Korean War had broken out. Scott, who had relatives who fought in World War I and World War II, was not about to miss out on service.
“I’d be damned if I was going to stay off,” Scott said.
Scott was soon on his way to Japan and later in Korea, where he served in the infantry. The U.S. Army sent a number of draftees to the crew, whom Scott trained.
In the eight months he served in the infantry in Korea, Scott faced a fair amount of combat.
“We certainly saw our fair share of it,” Scott said.
He spoke tearfully of friends he had lost in battle; two members of his crew died in the war.
After coming back to his home in Oklahoma, Scott said he became a better student.
“We learned what outside school was,” Scott explained of his decision to keep attending class.
He went on to attend college on a football scholarship.
Amid the trauma of war, Scott built close friendships that he continues to maintain years later.
“They were my brothers because we went through hell together,” Scott said.
Scott said he continues to believe he made the right decision to enlist.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing,” Scott said.