This week, the Tampa Bay region lost one of its more notable World War II veterans, retired Judge John Germany. He served as an Army tank commander at age 22 and helped liberate a concentration camp on the German-Austrian border before being sent to the Pacific theater.
The Tampa civic leader passed away Wednesday morning --- just one week shy of the 70th anniversary of the formal surrender of Japan ending World War II on September 2, 1945.
The end came less than four years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 - a day Walter Hood, 94, will never forget.
“I went to Ohio State university. I was studying in my room with the radio on and they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed,” Hood recalled.
He ended up at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio analyzing aerial reconnaissance photographs until the end of the war.
“I hadn’t even been overseas,” Hood said so he volunteered to be part of the crew that photographed the atomic bomb test in 1946 at the Bikini Atoll.
He pages through a thick notebook filled with photos and newspaper clips with headlines like “Photographing the Big Bang.” There are several 8 x 11 black and white photographs of atomic mushroom clouds.
“I kept a diary and I’ve never seen anything so screwed up,” Hood said. “Unfortunately, they knew so little and a lot of sailors were allowed to go into the site right after the bombs were dropped or exploded under water.”
Dropping the atom bomb on Japan brought a quicker end to the war and relief for troops who’d finished fighting in Europe and were headed to the Pacific.
“We were put on a ship and were headed for the Asian theater. We got about halfway across the Atlantic when the Japanese gave up and we were sent back to the U.S.,” said Army Sergeant Al Boysen, a medical technician with the 139th Evacuation Hospital. His mobile medical unit traveled from France, Germany and Austria following the troops.
“In May of 1945, the unit I was with was assigned to a concentration camp. The camp was in the beautiful Alps, right on a lake called Ebensee, Austria,” Boysen said.
That’s the same concentration camp that Tampa’s John Germany helped liberate as an Army tank commander.
“The poor folks that were interned in those camps - in some cases - they were fortunate to be alive, if you could call it that,” Boysen said. “But they were physically and mentally so mistreated that many of them were not able to recover.”
What he witnessed as a 19-year-old is still not easy to talk about at age 90. Instead, Boysen wrote about it in letters to his mother and then compiled those notes into a story after the war. It left him with one thought.
“The biggest question that I have is - how can we teach people to get along with other people in a peaceful manner? I can’t say it any other way,” Boysen said.
Both Boysen and Hood are members of the Village Veterans Club that meets monthly at Tampa University Village.