World War II Veteran Leonard Hestand, 99, joined the Army in 1942 to help stop the war.
In 1919, Leonard’s family left Jacksboro, Texas traveling by covered wagon to Southwest Oklahoma to the small farming community called “Harmony”. Harmony was located about eight miles south of Olustee. This would become home for the Hestand family. Leonard, the youngest of five boys, along with his five sisters would work farming side by side with their father.
The second World War was a very significant period for the 20th century. The exact amount of lives lost is unknown.
There were 16 million that served in the armed forces for the United States. Leonard remembers the draft, being classified and the many young men awaiting for their number to enter the war. Leonard had many responsibilities on the family farm due to his father’s severe rheumatism, and three times he was granted deferment. There would be no fourth deferment for Leonard.
He told his father, ” I am not going for another deferment, eventually I will have to serve, and I need to help end this war.” His military physical examination in Oklahoma City was successful and he was now an official member of the United States Army.
Leonard, along with 400 other young men, spent nine days at Ft. Sill Army Base, until they received the order to ship out to St. Petersburg, Fla. In Florida the soldiers would spend the night in a hay barn, and hear from motivational speakers. One speaker said, “You entered as a member of the United States Army, but now you are in the Air Force.”
The soldiers were in Florida for six weeks before leaving for San Angelo, Texas for bomber training. The Bomber School trained the young men about planes and 100 pound bombs. Leonard learned about the mechanics and instruction make up of the bombs, the black powder, and the pin in the trigger. He became an instructor and felt proud and honored to teach about the bombs that played a tremendous role in WWII.
Back then, military pay was $50 a month, and soldiers would stand and wait in a pay line, being asked their name, rank, and serial number. When Leonard made it to the front of the line for the first time he gave the major his information and was told “Sorry but you have been red-lined” and directed him to the end of the line again. Leonard was frustrated and he didn’t know the definition of “red-lined”. When Leonard initially enlisted he had signed and spelled his name L E O N A R D, but on his paperwork his name did not include the O. Eventually corrected, Leonard received his pay, and was also given orders oversees to the South-Pacific in Guam.
Before leaving for Guam, he was allowed to return to Oklahoma for 10 days. Leonard’s arrival home brought smiles to everyone. His mother had cooked all his favorite foods, including pecan pie. During the short visit home, he ate good, enjoyed time with everyone and worked very hard in the cotton field. Leonard said his goodbyes, and prepared for departure 7,185 miles away to the Pacific, to help serve his country and end World War II.
From Sept. 1, 1939 to Sept. 2, 1945 World War II was fought in Europe, the Pacific, the Atlantic, South-East Asia, China, the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Northern Africa.
Leonard took a bus from Quanah, Texas to Salt Lake City, Utah then to Seattle, Wash. He traveled by boat on a back flat top boat, anchoring in Hawaii. The living quarters were the decks below the ship, and temperatures were unbearable, therefore the soldiers would return up top to sleep at night. After 17 days and nights the ship arrived in Guam.
One of the many memories of Guam, include the nice and friendly people he encountered working the land. They farmed by pulling carts attached to oxen and cows, never once did he see a horse. Coconuts were everywhere, and large rats. Soldiers were instructed, if bit, to head immediately to the first aid station.
Leonard wrote his parents asking about the family farm in southwest Oklahoma. His father said, “The harvest is in jeopardy and we desperately need sufficient hands to save it.” Leonard quickly showed his first Seargent the letter requesting an emergency furlough. The first sergeant (whose office was next door to the commanding officer) loudly denied the furlough. The commanding officer entered the office and asked what was going on. After reading the letter, the Commander ordered the first sergeant to prepare a “Class A Pass” for Leonard to depart Monday. He compassionately told Leonard he had 10 days to assist his father. If he needed more time, to contact him directly. Leonard received the pass, and was now on another mission and headed back to Harmony. Leonard received a bittersweet second homecoming, and within the 10 days successfully saved the cotton harvest.
World War II ended on Sept. 2, 1945, the results was the end of the German Third Reich, United States and Russia becoming Global superpowers, and the United Nations was founded. Leonard recalls the coming together of the United States during the war. The women working in the factories while our soldiers sacrificed their lives. The United States stood proudly in unison in spirit, with commitment by working hard day and night to keep the USA safe and productive. The commanding officers planned carefully and perfectly, to end the Second World War, the most destructive war in all of history.
After the war, Leonard Hestand returned to Oklahoma. He followed his fathers footsteps, and became a cotton, wheat and cattle farmer for many years. He later married and had a family. Leonard also worked for Jackson County Road and Bridges Department. In May 2012, Leonard was invited on a honor flight, a free trip that transports Veterans to Washington D.C to visit their memorials. His son Mark and his wife accompanied Leonard and said, “We chartered a plane at 4:30 a.m. the day we left and not one time during the long , busy day did my dad ever complain about being tired or needing to rest. He didn’t even close his eyes on the returning home to Altus.”
Leonard and all the other WWII Veteran’s were received all day by honor guards, soldiers, kids, teachers, and all types of people thanking them for serving our country. When asked what was he learned from time served and being in WWII, Leonard said, “The most important thing I learned was when you are called upon to do job, whatever it is, make sure you do it correctly and with pride and honor.”