Leonard Horton

Sharna Johnson

“Tell them I wont be in to work any more, I’m joining the service,”

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

Leonard Horton
Date of birth: May 27, 1919
Dates of service: Dec. 8, 1941 to Nov. 23, 1945
Hometown: Clovis
Theater and locations of service: Russia, Trinidad, Iceland, Caribbean, Recife, Belen South America, Cuba, New Guinea
Branch: Navy
Rank: Gunner’s mate 1st class
Unit and specialty: Armed guard
After discharge: Clovis

In his words: “Tell them I wont be in to work any more, I’m joining the service,” he told his depot agent on the phone.
Pearl Harbor had just been attacked by Japan and Horton’s patriotism welled up, making it easy for him to walk away from a good job with the railroad.

“I thought it was a good decision. So many (men) enlisted from all walks of life, we were so angry at Japan.”

Merchant ships were “recruited” to service while Horton was in basic training and it was on one such ship that he served.
The Russians, who were American allies, were desperately in need of supplies so civilian freight-liners were commandeered for the task. “The government took them over and mounted guns on them,” he said.

He explained that a Navy crew of eight to ten men, one of them Horton, were added to the civilian crew on the ships.

The ships were loaded with supplies. Tanks were welded to the deck before the ship set sail for Iceland to join up with a convoy. Once there were enough ships in the port to form a convoy, they were off for Russia.

Serving with civilians proved to be interesting, as Horton recalls: “Those merchant men were ex-sailors from all over the world. It was an interesting crew, good to visit with. They could tell some hairy tales.”

He remembers the story of one man who was “always bragging about how he took such good care of his family.” The men came to find out a different truth in England.

Horton says: “We went into a pub and he started to tell everyone how he took good care of his wife. The bartender called his name and said he had a telegram from his wife.

The man asked the bartender to read it to him because he had forgotten his glasses.

The bartender read: “Me and the children can’t live on what you are sending home.”

Being a civilian freight liner didn’t afford them any protection from the enemy while at sea. “You bet they realized it,” Horton said.

He explained the enemy was immediately aware that these were not simply cargo ships. “Wolf pack” formations of enemy submarines tracked them throughout their journey, getting in front of them and waiting for them so they could attack with torpedoes, he said.

“The ship in front took a torpedo and we watched it sinking before it stood on its end and sunk stern up. After it went under, the boilers must have blew and the ship popped back up,” he said. “I was thinking ‘am I gonna be next?’”

The fighting in Russia was bad and the supplies were sorely needed. Horton remembers that when they arrived in Murmansk the ship was unloaded quickly, the tanks going first. The tanks were removed from the deck, gassed up and then driven straight to the front-lines, only 20 miles off the beach.

When he returned home to Clovis, the railroad not only gave him back his job, but like all the men returning from war, he was also given his full seniority, as though he had never left.

“I look back now and I enjoyed the travel. You’d make a lot of friends.

“I don’t remember bad things, you push them out of your mind.”

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail:
sharna_johnson@link.freedom.com