Wednesday, 21 February 2024

Veterans Day profile: Lake County native comes home to stay after the war

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KELSEYVILLE – If you have ever travelled down Sylar Lane in Kelseyville it’s pretty likely that you are familiar with William “Hukk” Hukkanen. He’s an iconic figure in the little town as he sits in his rocking chair on his front porch giving passers by a wave or nod.


William B. Hukkanen was born in Kelseyville in December 1923 at the Allison house, which stood where the telephone building is now. This proud veteran will celebrate his 85th birthday in December.


Every day he sits on the front porch of the home he has lived in since 1926, enjoying the outdoors and the friendly waves from folks. Don’t think for a minute that is the extent of his day though.


“Hukk,” as he likes to be called, works a large garden, chops wood and cooks his own meals. He remains very active, reads voraciously and is not shy about sharing his opinion. At nearly 85 years old and having served his country, he’s earned that right.


Hukk joined the United States Navy in August 1942. He was anxious to serve his country and defend her after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While in the Navy, Hukk served aboard several ships before he was discharged in December 1945 and returned to his home town of Kelseyville.

 

 

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Some time ago he composed a synopsis of his time in the Navy, which follows.


“Well, they went and did it – bombed Pearl Harbor about 1300 or 1400 hours Pacific Time. I was not too shocked because I had figured out that we would go to war with Japan. As soon as I could get a ride, I went to the Santa Rosa Navy Recruiting Station, about 50 miles away from my home. I enlisted in the Navy, but they sent me home to finish high school and told me they would call me when needed. At present, they had more people than they knew what to do with.


“They called me in August 1942 to the Naval Recruiting Station in San Francisco and sent me to boot camp at NTS San Diego. In October 1942, I reported to the USS South Dakota (BB-57) and served in her through the battle of Santa Cruz in October and Savo Island in November in the Solomon Islands.


“In December1942 I transferred to the USS McCawley (APA-4) and served in her while hauling troops and cargo and making landings in the Solomon Islands. She was sunk in the Blanche Strait near Rendova Island in June 1943 and I was transferred to the USS President Hayes (APA-20). I served in her hauling troops and cargo and was coxswain on a Higgins boat in the first wave when we made landings in Bougainville. We also made the landing on Emary Island before I was transferred back to the US in April 1944 for 30 days leave and to work on the construction of a new ship.


“I reported aboard the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) in July 1944 at Kirkland Shipyard in Seattle and our shakedown cruise was to Pearl Harbor. We then took part in the invasion of the Marshalls, Gilberts and Saipan, as well as working air sea rescue for the B-29s bombing Japan. Working as a coxswain or bow hook on a rescue vessel, we picked up five crews from the ocean.


“I returned to the US and was transferred to the USS Tamalpais (AO-96) in May 1945. After a shakedown cruise, we spent time in the Marshalls, Gilberts, Admiralty Islands and then on to the occupation of Japan.

 

 

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William Hukkanen as a young man, during his service in the Navy in World War II. Courtesy photo.
 

 

 


“In summation of my time in the Navy, I would probably have reenlisted if it hadn’t gotten so chicken after the war was over. We got a bunch of 90-day wonders who were constantly trying to tell me how to do my seamanship after I had served in five ships. I loved my ships with the mother image they portrayed and the great crews. I served with some of the best skippers in the fleet and a couple not so good. I did some time on bread and water and stood before the mast and had a blast in the Navy.


“I came out of the Navy with 10 Battle Stars on my Pacific Ribbons and two Ship Citations from the Secretary of the Navy. When I go “deep six” I will say, “Boy, am I glad I did that!” If this sounds a little salty, well I was, and I still am!


“My son is helping me write a book on my time in the Navy. It’s good reading for sailors because they understand what I am about. They say, “Once a jarhead, always a jarhead.” Once a blue water sailor, always a sailor.”


Hukkanen earned several awards during his naval service. He does not brag but is tremendously proud of his service, the men he served with and especially of those who never made it home.


His awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the Navy Unit Citation with two stars, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with 10 stars, the World War II Victory Medal and the Navy Occupation Service Medal (Japan).


When he shows you his awards he talks with sincerity and his voice cracks and eyes water when he remembers the men who gave their all, never to return to their families.


Hukkanen was married twice and currently lives with his two dogs, Sally and Scooter. On relationships with women he says, “I learned a long time ago not to argue with women. That’s a fight you can’t win.”


His son, Sam, is employed at the Kelseyville Fire Department and his daughter, Kristine, lives in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.


As for life today he said, “'Generation gap’ is an older person’s excuse ‘cause they can’t communicate.” He mentioned that he chats with the kids walking past his porch and shows an interest in them, something he believes matters in their lives.


Hukk also believes people have lost focus on what really matters. He said, “People want more than they can get. That’s why we’re in such trouble.”


As for him, Hukk says, “My life has been a helluva good ride. I never hurt nobody, that I know of.”


He added, “I could go outta here tomorrow and I’d be OK. If you live with a fear of death you’ll be scared your whole life.”


Ginny Craven is the founder of Operation Tango Mike. On Veterans Day 2007 she received the annual “Friend of the Veteran Award.” Craven lives in Kelseyville.


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