Veterans 09172017 - Bill Loggins

Bill Loggins, now 90, of Gatesville, had quite the experience. He joined the U.S. Navy at age 17 just as plans were under way for the invasion of Japan.

Photo by Mary Drennon

Gatesville resident Bill Loggins signed up with the military fully expecting to go to war — but that’s not what ended up happening. With his parents’ permission, he joined the U.S. Navy at age 17 just as plans were underway for the invasion of Japan.

That was before President Harry Truman’s order to drop atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945. World War II was over before he even had a chance to get started.

Still, for a kid who grew up on a farm milking cows and never really went anywhere, Loggins, now 90, had quite the experience. Born in Corsicana, his father worked in the oil field and the children were raised on a farm on Big Creek near Marlin at their grandparents’ place.

The boy’s daily chores would range from milking cows to digging potatoes and retrieving them from under the house where they were stored. They had fresh milk and butter, and a garden. “Mother was a good cook,” he added.

Loggins attended Marlin High School, graduating after the 11th grade at age 16. He wouldn’t turn 17 until near the end of summer. He worked for a time and contemplated attending Texas A&M, as he was offered a football scholarship.

But all of Loggins’ friends were going into the service, so he decided to join as well. In October 1944 he joined the Navy with his parents’ permission. He didn’t care for the Army, and he thought about the Marines, but he had friends who had been in the Navy and knew they liked it.

Loggins rode a train to California to attend boot camp. “That was the first train I’d ever been on. I thought it was interesting,” he said. For that matter, he hadn’t traveled much either. The prospects for the teenager not yet turned 18 must have seemed quite adventurous.

Loggins was assigned to basic engineering and attended special training for a few months in Gulfport, Mississippi. Afterwards he returned to California to await orders. He was assigned to the 2,100-ton Fletcher class destroyer, the USS Sigourney.

The ship was being overhauled when Loggins arrived. “They added five torpedo tubes,” he said. It also had seen plenty of action in WWII and earned nine battle stars. It needed a good overhauling.

“They were called tin cans,” Loggins said. “They’re built fast and run fast, but they’re not very thick.” Loggins became a fireman, working below deck in the engine room for the machinist’s mate and others, doing whatever he was ordered to do. He wasn’t the only young one, either. “There were 10 other 17-year-olds coming on to replace the older guys,” he said. (By older, he meant 25 to 30.) And of course, the youngest ones got all the chores the others didn’t want.

His secondary job when not below deck, interestingly, was helping out in the kitchen, washing and peeling potatoes, among other tasks.

The invasion of Japan

The sailors were expecting a trip to the China Sea to participate in the invasion of Japan. There were also false rumors that enemy subs were targeting the West Coast. Then, in August 1945, the U.S. bombed Japan and plans changed.

Instead of going off to war, the sailors aboard the Sigourney were ordered to New York via the Panama Canal to participate in Navy Day exercises on the Hudson River in October 1945. There, dressed in his Navy best, he saw President Truman inspecting the many ships participating in the event. He sailed right by the destroyer, waving to the men. It was an exciting moment for Loggins.

The ship was to be decommissioned, and, before Loggins was discharged in August 1946, he spent several months helping to shut her down. (It was later recommissioned for a time.) He was just 19 years old when he was honorably discharged in late summer of 1946.

He met future wife

Loggins returned home and enrolled for a year at Southwestern University before transferring to Baylor to be closer to home. There, he met his future wife, Ollie Flake, in a mutual class. They had their first date on Halloween 1947 and were married on March 5, 1948; after nearly 70 years of marriage, they have four children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Loggins’ chosen field was education, and once he earned his BS degree, he started teaching at smaller schools in a variety of locations, including Bremond, Dawson, Malakoff, Plano and Prosper. Along the way, he earned his master’s and rose up the educational ladder to eventually become superintendent before he retired in 1986.

Today, reflecting back, Loggins is grateful. The views of the 17-year-old who eagerly awaited what he really didn’t understand, looks very different today.

“I was fortunate to get through that without being hurt,” he said. “We’ve (his family) have been blessed in many ways.”

“Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email veteransvoices@wacotrib.com. “Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.

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