“We just didn’t feel tension like a lot of other places.” — An Interview with Hershey and Terry Miyamura: Part 2 of 2
By Bob Rosebrough
“All I could say was, ‘What?’” Hershey learned he was awarded the Medal of Honor the same day he was released, after 28 months as a Prisoner of War in North Korea. He says, “We were deloused, given a shower, given a pair of pajamas and a robe, and told to go lay down on the cot and rest. I don’t know why, but that’s what I was doing. And this sergeant comes up and he says, ‘There’s a fella from your home town who’d like to talk to you.’ I said, ‘What about?’ He says, ‘I don’t know. Follow me.’ It turned out that was just a ploy to get me to follow him.
“He led me into another tented area. Standing at the foot of a table there was our general and he had the third division patch on and he introduced himself and he said, ‘You know why you’re here?’ and I said, ‘No. No, sir.’ He said, ‘Because of the actions on the night of the 24th of April, 1951, you were awarded the Medal of Honor.’ And I remember all I could say was, ‘What?’”
“Our Government kept it secret.” When he met the US general the day after he was released, Hershey found out that he wasn’t the only person who didn’t know that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He says, “The general said, ‘Our government kept it a secret because they were afraid of retaliation from the enemy because of what you did.’ And then he asked me to more or less relate what happened during the attack that night. Then immediately after that, there was nothing but photographers and reporters who wanted the story.”
“A very bad mistake.” Hershey begins talking about the trip home. “I had the choice of either flying back or coming back on the ship and I chose the ship because I only weighed 98 or 99 pounds, and I wanted to put some weight on before I got home. But that was a very bad mistake. It took us nineteen days to get home and I was sick about eleven of those days. I couldn’t get out of that bunk. They had us down on the bottom. Just the aroma down there will make you sick. We had to stand in line to get chow and that food smell made me sicker than a dog. Finally, they decided to let me sleep up on top. That’s when I start feeling better.”
“She didn’t even know I was alive the first year.” Of the landing in San Francisco Hershey says, “I was allowed to be the first one off the ship and standing at the end of the plank was my wife and my dad and my sister,” says Hershey.
Sixty-one years later, Terry still wells with emotion at the memory of Hershey’s return. She takes time to compose herself before saying, “You just can’t believe it’s him. It was a moment that I kept waiting for and waiting for and then when it came I thought, ‘Is it true? Is he there really?’ He looked good. Real thin and fragile, but he looked all right.”
Hershey says, “She didn’t even know I was alive the first year. The government didn’t release any names because they didn’t have any names to release. The Chinese government didn’t release any names until the armistice talks started again.”
Terry says, “We didn’t know if he was alive or dead.”
Terry didn’t realize the significance of Hershey’s Medal of Honor. Hershey says, “She didn’t know anything about the Medal of Honor. She didn’t even know what the Medal of Honor was.”
“In our family nobody ever knew military life. He told me he was getting a medal. I thought it was just another medal. But yeah, it was something,” Terry says.
Gallup welcomes Hershey back. Hershey and Terry drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and stayed with Terry’s mother. Hershey says, “I got a call from Gallup. They said, ‘Don’t come back until this date.’ I asked why. They said, ‘I don’t know, but they just want you back on this date.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’ We got on the train that night and the next morning we were coming into Gallup.”
Hershey says, “I saw a lot of people at the station there. This was all a surprise and shock to me really. That’s when I was getting sick to the stomach. I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening.’ So all I remember is when we got off the train, here comes a flyover. They said I ducked down (Hershey laughs) when that flight flew over. It was an automatic reaction I had because that’s all we did over there is duck when a plane is coming. I was strafed twice by our own planes.
“They said, ‘Go to that platform over there because they’re waiting for you.’ And that’s when Mickey Mollica – he was our Mayor – and then my buddy, Amelio DiGregoria was sitting out there, my dad, and a national guard general was there. Howard Wilson, I believe, was there. He was the sheriff at that time. They were sitting on that platform overlooking the crowd, and in the crowd were a lot of school kids that they had let out for a half-day. They had a group of Japanese Americans from Albuquerque that belonged to the Japanese American Citizens League and they were there to greet me.
“I just couldn’t believe all the people that were there and all that had happened. I still meet people today that say, ‘I was one of those school kids in the audience waiting for you.’ That really makes me feel ancient. (Hershey laughs) And then after all the ceremonies, talking and all, I was told to ride in Dr. Kinney’s convertible. I remember riding the convertible down Front Street all the way to my home on Terrace. Yeah, that was quite a welcoming.”
Terry mentions that a band was playing and Hershey says, “I remember Lucille Boggio being the drum majorette.”
Terry adds, “I was just happy to be with him there and that he was home. That was quite a day.”
“What were you and the President carrying on about?” After he got home Hershey “got a letter from the White House saying that I was to go to Washington and President Eisenhower would present the Medal of Honor to me on the 27th of October. When I got there, they had assigned an officer and a car to me. I was told I could bring a friend or two. I wasn’t told that I could bring all my family, which some of the recipients did. But anyway, they fitted me for uniform, which I didn’t have because when I got captured I lost everything I had, so I had to be given another. They fitted me with the Eisenhower jacket and all, which I still have.
“At the ceremony, that morning, I was told there were going to be seven of us to receive the Medal at the same ceremony. But they said I was going to be the first one to go up and that really made me nervous, and so I don’t remember too much about the ceremony itself, except the President asked me, ‘Are you nervous?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘So am I. This is one of the first I’m putting on at the White House.’ So that made me feel a little better.”
Terry and President Eisenhower struck up a lively conversation that caused one of Hershsey’s friends to tease her by saying, “What were you and the President carrying on about?” Terry says, “He was a gentleman and made me feel not intimidated. It was wonderful.”
“I had to forget about the war – which I did.” After all the pomp and ceremony were over, Hershey felt he wanted to raise a family and he felt he needed to alter his thinking. He says, “I felt that if I kept thinking about the war, I would never be able to be employed by anybody or run a business of any kind. So I had to forget about the war – which I did. That was what helped me through all those years in business.”
Hershey put in an application at Fort Wingate and started working for Frank Rutar at the White Auto Store. Seven years went by before they notified him to come to work at Wingate, but by then Hershey told them, “Forget it.” He says, “I got mad at them for keeping me waiting for so long and Frank was a very good employer and he was helping me out.”
“The happiest time of my life was when I was running the station.” Hershey was approached about a business opportunity. He says, “Ed Junker from World War II who was a Bataan Veteran came up to me. I didn’t know him well, but he knew my cousin Frank. He said, ‘Our company (which was Humble Oil) is opening a new station and we’d like for you to come work for us.’ He offered a half interest in the store.”
Hershey’s station was two miles west of town where the equipment rental business by the airport is now. Terry says, “But there was nothing out there in those days.”
Hershey says, “Ed told me the station would be near the off ramp of Interstate 40. That was the plan. It didn’t turn out that way, but that was the original plan. I enjoyed the service station. The happiest time of my life was when I was running the station. The opening day was a winter blizzard, but I sold more gas that day than I ever sold later. It was quite an opening. I’ll never forget that day because it was snowing. I could have never raised my family in that business that I enjoyed so much if the people of Gallup didn’t help me.”
Terry adds, “People really trusted him to just leave their car and let him work on it.”
Hershey remembers someone who helped him make the station work. “I had a young man named Salvador Esquibel start with me and he stayed with me until I closed the place. He learned the business and was very good help there. He was a good public relations guy and we got along well.”
Hershey closed the business in 1984 when he started suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome. Hershey says, “I just couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘I don’t understand that. Why, after so many years have passed? I learned that there’s no time limit to when you can start experiencing that, and that’s the reason I decided to get out of the business. My stomach was bothering me a lot and it was getting worse. Things were happening to me and I was taking it out on others. I said I needed some help. I gave all my inventory and equipment to Sal Esquibel. He told me he would like to open up his own place. I regret not notifying my customers that were so loyal to me, but I had to leave. I just regret it.”
“Gallup is the place I want to live and die.” After a couple of hours of talking, Hershey and Terry are winding down. Hershey says, “I’ve been through a lot of places, a lot of towns, a lot of states and I still feel that New Mexico, and especially Gallup, is the place I want to live and die. I feel more comfortable here than anywhere I’ve ever been.”
Terry adds, “It has been a good life here. I wouldn’t want to go to a large city. Even Albuquerque is too big for me. I think this is nice here. Very nice.” She says, “We’re just country hicks,” and she laughs. “We like the small town atmosphere, the friendship and the friendliness.”