Hatley veteran recalls three wars’ worth of stories

Rupert Wilson holds a photo from his time during World War II. (EMILY TUBB)

HATLEY – Rupert Watson is no stranger to war. At just 19 years old, Watson enlisted in the Navy and headed off to World War II.

“We went to Africa in 1942, in the early part of the war. I had heard stories from my dad about war my whole life, but here I was on an aircraft carrier going over there. I couldn’t anticipate what was coming because I was so young,” said Watson.

Watson, who was farming in Eupora at that time, chose the Navy after hearing his father’s stories of being in the Navy during World War I. As it turned out, though, Watson did not take to Navy life.

“I was a poor seaman. I got sea sick and pretty much stayed that way for the next four years.”

Watson, who worked as a radio operator, used Morse code to transmit and receive messages for the military.

Aside from the constant sickness, Watson spent his free time awaiting letters from his girlfriend, Mary Lucille, and trying to adjust to military life.

While serving on the USS Suwannee, Watson did see some combat when the ship was attacked by torpedoes.

“It came in, missing our propeller by 12 feet. I could see it coming but there was no getting out of the way. I thought it was the end.”

When victory in Europe and victory over Japan came in 1945, it was a big relief to Watson.

“It was nice to finally be off of that ship and not be so sick all the time.”

By the time Watson went to serve in the Korean War, he had gotten out of the Navy and joined the United States Air Force, where he would later become a Chief Master Sergeant.

The 14 months, spent mostly in Pusan, suited Watson better than being on a ship.

“I personally liked it better. It was on land. We lived in a field and handled traffic from headquarters. There was some combat, though. We were overrun one time, but we had a lot of Army infantry with us and we were able to stop it.”

After the Korean War, Watson came home. Mary Lucille, who had since become his wife, and their two sons, Tom and James, were able to go with him to his post in Europe. The family spent time traveling through small European countries, trying different cuisines and just being together. Over the next several years, the Watson family lived everywhere from San Antonio, Texas, to Okinawa.

Then the Vietnam War started.

“Vietnam was different because there was so little there. We lived in tents without any fortification or in a foxhole.”

Watson’s unit, stationed inside a combat zone, was attacked several times. Fortunately, perimeter guards were always able to repel the enemy.

His first tour in Vietnam lasted for one year, but Watson still wasn’t done. On his second tour, he occasionally saw his son, James, who was also there.

“James was in the northern part and I was in the southern part but we did get to see each other some. When he would come to see me, we would bunk up in a tent together. It was always a relief to see him. Lucille had a real hard time with that, she was so frightened.”

Just as Watson had to adjust to military life, coming home was even more difficult. After the excitement of never knowing what was around the next corner, he found life at home a bit dull. Eventually, though, he became accustomed to life at home with Mary Lucille, Tom and James.

Since that time, both Mary Lucille and James have passed away and Tom lives in Knoxville, Tenn. Watson now spends his days piddling in his garden or resting in his favorite recliner. As for his days in the military, he has no regrets.

I made close friends all along the way. For a long time we all kept in touch, but not many are left now. I look back on those days fondly…mostly.”

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