William Hope Baldwin US Navy WW II Veteran

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2019

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“We were completely surprised and utterly unprepared” was the response given by Bill Baldwin, when asked about the Japanese attack on the navy seaplane base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Dec 7, 1941. 

Baldwin, who had grown up in Andalusia and attended the schools there, graduated from Andalusia High School in 1938. He attended the University of Alabama 1938-39, but left in the fall of 1939 for lack of money. He briefly worked at a cotton mill before joining the Navy in Dec 1940. With the draft becoming law that year, Baldwin said “I didn’t want to wait to be drafted, so I joined the Navy in Dec 1940 at age 20.”

Boot training was done in Norfolk, Va and Bill remembered marching in the Jan 20, 1941 inaugural parade of President Franklin D Roosevelt. Recalling the historic parade, Baldwin said, ”It makes a good story, but it was so cold, I didn’t get much out of it”. 

After Norfolk, he was sent to Jacksonville, Fl. where he trained as an aviation metalsmith. In July 1941, he shipped out to Hawaii. There, he was assigned to the Kaneohe Bay Naval Station, a seaplane base for the PBY Catalina patrol plane. Some 5 months later came the surprise attack on Dec 7, 1941.

Baldwin said that on the Saturday before the attack, our base commander told us that we were as close to war as we would ever be. Still, the Sunday morning attack caught everyone by surprise. During the attack, Baldwin said, “There were low level bombers and fighters and they came in strafing and bombing and hit our only completed hangar. We had 36 planes and they destroyed all but three. Five of us ran to the fire truck and headed for the hangar, but a fighter strafed us and destroyed the truck. One boy was killed and several wounded, but I only got a small cut on my hand. It was well into the night before we put the fires out because most of our fire trucks were disabled.” 

Baldwin noted that there were 18 men killed at the base with many more wounded. The toll could have been much higher if 3 of the 4 work sections of the 300 man base had not been off on weekend liberty.

Bill Baldwin remained at Kaneohe until Feb 1943, when he was sent to Seattle as part of an air transport maintenance crew. Later, he was sent to the Aleutian Islands for a time before being sent to Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands. He remained there from Feb 1945 until the end of the was in Aug 1945. After the war, he was assigned to Ream Field, Ca. until his discharge in 1947.

In addition to his service during WW II, Bill Baldwin’s 3 sisters also served in the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service]. His sister Martha served at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Josephine served as a Pharmacists Mate at Great Lakes Naval Training Station and his sister, Lena was an officer in Seattle and Washington, DC.

In Sep 1947, Baldwin returned to the University of Alabama with the help of the GI Bill. He completed his work for his law degree and graduated in 1951. Returning to Andalusia, he joined the law practice of his father, E O Baldwin, who had been an attorney there for 43 years. He was also a University of Alabama graduate.

Bill Baldwin married Betty Brogden in July 1956. They were the parents of William [Kathy], Grant and Chris. 

At various times, Bill served on the Andalusia City Council, he was Mayor from 1959-1964, a District Judge, and a Circuit Judge for 2 terms before retiring in 1991. On the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bill and Betty attended the ceremonies in Hawaii, Dec 7, 1991. President George H W Bush was the main speaker. 

On a personal note, Bill Baldwin was a  member of the Andalusia Lions Club with the author. Bill served the club for over 54 years and was honored on his 90th birthday in Oct 30, 2010 with a special program. The author remembers Bill’s recollection of his wartime service. He still had in his possession, a menu from the Black Cat Café in Honolulu, where he had dined a few days  before the attack. Bill Baldwin and family were fellow members of the First United Methodist Church of Andalusia with the author’s family for many years. Bill died on Oct 30, 2011. We still miss Bill, a member of The Greatest Generation, and a citizen of our city who made a difference.

John Vick