SHREVE, Ohio -- December 7, 1941…The Day That Will Live In Infamy!
The thunder of war came to America’s shores when the Japanese fleet launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in the early-morning hours of that fateful Sunday.
That attack changed everything in the United States of America, as soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were thrust into a multi-theater war that took men and women from every corner of the country and put them on the front lines of battle.
And the after affects were felt everywhere, including in the small village of Shreve, Ohio. Outside of Wooster and west of Canton, Shreve produced several service members during World War II, including Harold Wesley Plant, who went from working on cars at a gas station to being a lead mechanic in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945.
At 17 years old, Plant was informed of the Pearl Harbor attack by the very woman who later became his wife, Winifred.
“My wife and one of her girlfriends, they came down and said, ‘They attacked at Pearl Harbor,’” Plant recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘Yeah, turn the news on.’ So, I turned on the radio, and that’s the first I heard of it.”
In June of 1943, Plant answered the call to serve his country and reported to basic training on Miami Beach. Stationed at a hotel, Plant trained with thousands of soldiers in the summer heat, and then, was shipped off to airplane mechanic school for several months.
Following his specialized training, Plant was sent to the Asiatic-Pacific front to work on B-24 bombers with the Fourth Photo Reconnaissance Division.
“You were responsible for talking to the pilots or reading their notes of what was wrong or what needed to be checked on the plane for the next mission,” Plant said. “You had to check that and find what the problem was, repair it and approve it.
“It was your responsibility. If you approved it, you said that was correct and it was okay to take the plane on another mission.”
Not only were Plant and his fellow servicemen preparing for war against the Japanese, but they also had deal with the elements, as a massive typhoon blew through Buckner Bay and left in its wake wreckage of ships and tent cities that housed the soldiers.
“Ships were blown over from one side of the bay to the other, rocking and of course, a lot of them went down,” Plant said. “Ships went down during that typhoon, and from then on, we would sleep in the plane at night.
“Then, we’d have to get out of there, get our luggage out of there, set it on the ground, and they’d fly the mission. When they came back, then we would work on the planes.”
But through all of the challenges, the American servicemen persevered, and it was while performing routine maintenance on a B-24 that Plant and his crew met General Jonathan Wainwright, who spent time in a Japanese POW camp before being freed during the latter stages of the war.
“He came over to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you for what you’ve done for me,’” Plant said. “He shook my hand and said, ‘Thanks a lot.’ I said, ‘Indirectly, we really didn’t do anything. It’s everybody.’ He said, ‘Everybody did. Everybody helped me.’”
Plant was still in the Pacific when America made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and later, Nagasaki. And when he saw photos of the devastation, Plant felt the war soon would be coming to an end.
“That’s when they talked about using more of them, and they were in the process of deciding if they were going to use any more or not,” Plant said. “But it so happened that it converted some of the people and the Japanese, they didn’t want to fight us anymore.”
When the Japanese surrendered in the summer of 1945, Plant returned home to Shreve and married his beloved Winifred, with whom he spent 70 years together building a family of three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandsons.