Four longtime friends reminisce about the war
By Steve Huffman
CHINA GROVE ó Bill Cavin, Hoy Correll, Ernest Honbarger and Harold B. Sechler met in the pastor’s office at Mt. Zion United Church of Christ recently to share war stories.
World War II stories, to be precise.
Honbarger, 88, served in the Navy and Cavin, 85, served in the Army during the Second World War. Correll, 84, and Sechler, 82, just missed World War II action, both drafted into the Army in 1946.
They’re all longtime friends who grew up around China Grove. Cavin, Correll and Sechler are all members of Mt. Zion. It’s not unusual for the men to run into one another on the streets of China Grove.
“Ernie, he was a good old football player in high school,” Correll said of Honbarger, leaning over and patting his friend’s hand as he spoke. “It was China Grove High School, the China Grove Red Devils.”
When Correll finished speaking, the room momentarily grew silent, all four recalling that long-ago school and era.
Old stories die hard.
Of the four who gathered at Mt. Zion, Honbarger probably saw the most action during World War II. He was a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Texas, a battleship that served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres.
Honbarger said the USS Texas was involved in seven invasions and shelled the coast of France for three days prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944. As the war was winding to a close, the Texas dodged Japanese suicide planes in the Pacific, the ship’s gunners desperately working to save themselves and their shipmates.
“We were just lucky to come out of there,” Honbarger said. “The only time I enjoyed the war was when I was on shore leave.”
His last comment prompted his comrades to nod their heads in agreement.
Cavin served in the Army’s 127th Field Artillery, shelling German positions in hopes of loosening up the enemy’s fortifications for attack by the infantry.
“That’s the reason I’m wearing these hearing aids,” Cavin said of his close proximity to the artillery he helped fire.
The men typically speak little of their time in the military, their words prompted only at the request of Betty Corriher, the head of the history committee at Mt. Zion.
“I’d personally rather forget the whole damn thing,” Cavin said of his time in the military and the Second World War.
He said he went ashore at Normandy 30 days after D-Day, but by then the Allies had moved only a mile inland, the German resistance was so fierce. He fought in France, Luxemburg and Germany and at the end of the war was only 45 miles outside Berlin.
All four of the men have lived interesting lives.
Cavin made a living as a building contractor, Correll was postmaster in China Grove, Honbarger worked for the Rowan County ABC Board and Sechler worked for Cannon Mills and also ran a machine shop.
Today, Sechler still raises 60 cows.
“You’re cow poor, ain’t you?” Correll kidded him when Sechler announced the number of heifers he still raises.
Later, when Correll announces that he’s got five grandsons and two great-grandsons, Honbarger doesn’t hesitate before interjecting, “God, you’re old.”
Honbarger said it was difficult to fathom the size of the USS Texas. He said 1,800 men served on the ship, only about 600 of whom survive today.
Honbarger said he served on the ship for four years, but there were parts of the Texas he didn’t see during all his time aboard.
He said an annual reunion of his shipmates is held in Houston, Texas, where the ship is preserved. Honbarger said he went to one reunion years ago, but hasn’t returned since.
“The only people I knew were the chaplain and the bugler,” Honbarger said of that reunion.
As a gunner’s mate, Honbarger assisted with the loading and firing of big 14-inch guns.
Cavin remembers the German civilians almost welcoming the Allies as they swept across the Rhineland as the war neared its end. The German people, Cavin said, were as much victims of the war as anyone.
“They were as good to us as anyone was,” Cavin said. “They didn’t want a war anymore than the people over here wanted a war.”
The four laughed when someone asked if they’d kept their military uniforms as keepsakes of all they’d been through.
Honbarger said he gave his uniforms to his sister so she could turn them into clothes for her children.
“I used mine up rabbit hunting,” Cavin said.
When the four men were asked if they ever get together to reminisce about the war and their lives, Correll laughed.
“No,” he joked, “we do our drinking at home.”
Betty Corriher, the woman who heads the history committee at Mt. Zion, said it’s important to remember World War II veterans who are dying out by thousands a day. She said church members began three years ago honoring their veterans with a special service. This year’s event will be held today.