Mention World War II with longtime Surfside Beach resident John Webster and he’ll nod knowingly.
He was there.
Talk about the Korean conflict and he’ll smile. He was there too.
All because he wanted to fly.
Webster, now 91, enlisted in the Navy in 1945 just after he graduated from high school. “I used to hitchhike from my home near Charlotte, North Carolina, to the recruiting office in Salisbury, North Carolina,” he said about the 40-mile trip. “I picked the Navy because I thought it would be the best chance to fly.”
Instead, he was introduced to two other modes of transport — the troop train, which transported him and his fellow recruits to Portsmouth, Virginia, for training using wooden rifles, and from there to California where he was put on a ship bound for Guam.
On the trip west, he said he kept his family informed of where he was by calling home collect when the train stopped. “Of course, they never accepted the charges.”
The train was boring, Webster said, but the trip to Guam was horrible.
“I never was so sick in my life,” he recalled. “They kept feeding me crackers, because that was the only thing I could keep down.”
He shared a story of a reunion of his Navy brethren.
“We slept on deck because it was cooler, and the guys at the reunion told the story about a guy who ran over the sleeping bodies to get to the rail. I didn’t say a word,” he said.
After arriving in Guam, Webster was put in charge of guarding Japanese prisoners of war. After two years in the Navy, he was no closer to his goal of flying. So when his two-year commitment ended, he got out and headed to Duke, where he played football and studied.
But when hostilities broke out in Korea in 1950, Webster was ready for the opportunity.
“I enlisted in the Air Force. I was determined to fly,” he said.
And fly he did. He flew a T-6 trainer as part of the forward air patrol. “We marked the targets for the bombers, because they had to get in and out. The T-6 had room for two, the pilot and observer, who without protective armor or guns, ferreted out the enemy.
“There was no such thing as civilian casualties,” he said proudly. “That’s how good we were.”
Webster said he didn’t spend all his time in a plane. He took up body building and competed all over the southeastern United States. He sparred with George Chuvalo, who twice took Muhammad Ali 15 rounds, and hobnobbed with stars including Roseanne Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis when they visited Myrtle Beach as part of the 1981 Carolina Country Jamboree. Until Webster was 85, he played competitive racquetball.
“I hope to get back to it,” Webster said of his racquetball career, “but the doctor appointments keep getting in the way.”
Webster, who retired from the Air Force as a major, and his fellow veterans will be honored in ceremonies this weekend.
Events include a 9 a.m. ceremony Nov. 9 with the children at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church’s preschool and Murrells Inlet VFW post 10420 placing flags on the graves of veterans in the church cemetery.
On Nov. 11, the official Veterans Day, American Legion Post 178 in Murrells Inlet will have an 11 a.m. ceremony at the post, 3950 US-17 Business. The VFW event, which includes music and a speaker, begins at noon at 4359 US-17 Business. At 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 11, Surfside Beach will host a ceremony at the town’s veteran’s memorial at Passive Park, Surfside and Willow drives.