Serving in World War II: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In 2007, AETN created an oral history program called In Their Words which attempted to preserve the experiences of Arkansas’ World War II veterans. Eventually more than 500 stories were recorded and archived. I encourage you to go to and read some of their stories.

Many other stories will remain untold but my grandmother helped me preserve a few of them in the summer of 1999. Pleasant Valley joined the whole country in sending its young men to war in 1941. Three of Grandma’s brothers served in World War II.

Thurman Hankins served three and a half years in the field artillery division of the Army. He spent most of his time in the Aleutian Islands and Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Elbert Hankins served with the 295th Division’s Anti-Aircraft Battalion in the Hawaiian Islands and was sent to the Gilbert Islands for six months during his stay in Hawaii.

Mack Hankins was a Seaman I aboard the U.S.S. Lexington which took part in raids on New Guinea, the Palau group, and the Marianas. He was also involved in operations in the China Sea and attacks on Tokyo, the Philippines and Iwo Jima. The aircraft carrier was hit by a kamikaze in November, 1944, killing 52 men. Today, the U.S.S. Lexington is docked at Corpus Christi, Texas and is available for tours.

One of the most memorable stories I heard, however, was about a man who lived near my grandmother. When I was a little girl sitting on my Grandma’s porch, I remember him coming across the pasture to visit. I remember being a little uneasy because often he had been drinking. I didn’t know his story then but Grandma shared it with me later.

Willie Edward Gateley was with a group of about a dozen soldiers who were several miles away from the main army when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. The last order he received from an officer was to take care of himself the best way he knew how. He and a buddy decided to go down to the beach facing Corregidor to see if they could find a way to cross over to the island. They met up with some other soldiers and they eventually split into two groups to try to find a boat.

The group he was with eventually found a small Navy boat powered with a diesel engine so three soldiers, including Gateley, went back to get the others. They didn’t find them but on the way back, they ran into a group of seven Japanese soldiers. The Japanese soldiers were traveling in a car and instructed him to follow behind on foot. His pace was slow and before he knew it, he looked up and the car was nowhere in sight. He ran into the woods as fast as he could before they noticed he was gone.

He got back to his buddies who were with the Navy boat but no one could get the diesel engine started. So they made a raft and set out about dark to try to get over to Corregidor, hoping the wind and tide would help them. Unfortunately, by morning they were about 15 miles out to sea. The boat drifted back toward Corregidor during the day but each night they drifted further out to sea. A Japanese ship came along about the third day and rescued them. He was taken to a small prison operated by the Japanese Navy on northern Bataan.

After a few weeks, he and all the prisoners escaped from their drunken guard. He joined a guerrilla movement in northern Bataan and would become the acting commander of the guerrilla forces. When General Douglas MacArthur marched into Manila, he was greeted by the band of 1,500 Philippine guerrillas under Gateley’s command.

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