Clayton Hill Jr. became one of scores of young men growing up in the western Missouri community of Liberty who, though not realizing it at the time, would soon be called into service during the early days of World War II. Initially receiving a draft notice for the U.S. Army, he traveled to his local recruiting office to inquire about enlisting in the U.S. Navy instead.
“My father said that if he was going to be in the service, he wanted to sleep in a bed with clean sheets and have hot meals,” mirthfully recalled his son, Bud Hill.
Following his induction into the U.S. Navy in Kansas City on May 22, 1942, the 21-year-old inductee was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, to complete his basic training. While there, he was questioned about what military specialty interested him.
“He told them that his father was a pharmacist and they asked him if he knew what acetylsalicylic (acid) was,” explained the veteran’s son. “He replied that it was the scientific name for aspirin so they placed him in the medical corps.”
For the next several weeks, he remained at Great Lakes and received medical training at the naval dispensary known as Camp McIntire. His accelerated training regimen continued in September 1942, when he was sent to U.S. Naval Station Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, spending the next few months continuing to work and learn at naval medical facilities. On March 21, 1943, the apex of his military experience approached when he boarded the SS President Monroe bound for overseas service in the South Pacific. Following brief stops at islands along their route to pick up additional personnel, Hill arrived at Brisbane, Australia, on July 8, 1943, and began providing medical support for his command’s headquarters.
“They moved him around frequently and two weeks after he got to Brisbane, he was transferred to Woodlark Island (off the coast of New Guinea),” said Bud Hill. “The Navy Seebees were busy building roads, airfields and other facilities, and my father provided their medical support,” he added.
Six months later, in early 1944, he was transferred to Townsville, Australia, and was assigned to the Townsville Area Hospital Facility. During the war, the Townsville area served as a hub of military activity and was a staging point for many battles fought in several locations throughout the Southwest Pacific.
The closing moments of his overseas duty came in late spring of 1944, when he was transferred to the town Finschhafen in New Guinea, where he worked at a 300-bed hospital. From there, he was sent to Manus Island off the northern coast of New Guinea and worked at a 1,000-bed hospital that supported medical services for a boat repair unit.
“His overseas duty lasted until October 20, 1944, which happened to be his 24th birthday,” said Bud Hill. “When he arrived in San Francisco, he worked briefly at a naval medical facility there before reassignment to Naval Air Station Olathe (Olathe, Kansas) in December 1944.”
While stationed at Olathe, Hill was detailed to nearby Union Station in Kansas City to provide physicals for service members who were separating from the military. It was during this timeframe that he met the former Geraldine Bourlier and the couple married on October 13, 1945. The veteran received his discharge on June 24, 1946, but the naval lifestyle had become an entrenched pursuit. Three days later, he re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Kansas City and was again assigned to Naval Air Station Olathe, where he continued to provide such medical services as operating the dispensary and providing flight physicals.
For the next several years, Hill remained at the Kansas naval site and shared with his son only a few stories of poignant experiences, one of which involved an F-5 tornado that claimed the lives of nearly five dozen people.
“My father was on his way to help paint the home of a friend who also worked on the base when he was caught in the Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957,” explained Bud Hill. “He was in his 1952 Dodge and was fortunate to have only sustained minor injuries to both he and the car.”
After repairing a flat tire on his Dodge, Hill used his medical training and experience by remaining on site for several hours to assist local personnel in treating the injured and those seriously wounded during the tornado.
“Cutty”—a nickname he was given because of his ping pong skills—received the final promotion of his career on June 16, 1962, achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Retiring a few weeks later, Hill went to work for the Missouri Department of Health and moved his family to Jefferson City in 1963. The father of four children retired from his state employment in 1983. Sadly, Hill’s beloved wife Gerry passed away in 1982 followed by his death nine years later. The couple were laid to rest in the military section of Hawthorn Memorial Gardens in Jefferson City.
As the veteran’s son explained, his father spoke very little about his military service, specifically the moments related to his time in World War II. However, a question posed a few years ago has inspired him to locate more information regarding the late sailor’s military history.
“One of my cousins asked me what my father did in the Navy and I didn’t know what to tell him,” said Bud Hill. “My father never spoke about his experiences in the war because I’m sure he witnessed some tragic situations working in the hospitals and treating the wounded. I felt like I should know more so I went and got his box of stuff from his war service and began researching it all.” He added, “Eventually, the pieces began to fall together and it has brought me a lot closer to his memory.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.