LISTEN to Harold Loew on Hometown Heroes
88-year-old Harold Loew of Las Vegas, NV appears on episode #360 of Hometown Heroes, debuting March 28, 2015. You’ll hear Loew remember growing up in Peoria, IL, with a father who had been wounded while serving in World War I. He loved listening to baseball on the radio, and his favorite player for his beloved Chicago Cubs was catcher Gabby Hartnett. Mr. Loew shares his memories of December 7, 1941, as well as what he did after the attack on Pearl Harbor to contribute to the war effort through Peoria’s biggest employer at the time.
After graduating from East Peoria Community High School, Loew joined the U.S. Marine Corps, was selected for sea school, and earned some very prestigious duty before being assigned to a 20mm gun crew on the USS Colorado. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was visiting San Diego in July of 1944. One of the speeches FDR delivered there was the address in which he announced he would seek a fourth term as president. One of the Marines guarding the chief executive in San Diego was a teenager from Peoria who had just turned 18 a month earlier. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear about the unique weapons Hal got to train with in preparation for that presidential guard duty, and which friendly member of the first family he had the privilege of meeting.
Loew was assigned to the battleship USS Colorado as a 20mm anti-aircraft gunner, coming aboard while the Colorado was undergoing repairs for damage suffered at Tinian. His first taste of combat came in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in November of 1944. He had never heard of the idea of a kamikaze attack before, but his ship would be hit by two suicide planes on the same day. The first plane barely hit the edge of the ship, as Lowe remembers, but the second would inflict more damage. “As it came in, it went farther to its left, and hit right below our quad 40 millimeter count on that side of the ship,” Hal recalls. That was about fifteen yards from where Loew was positioned, and the impact knocked him from his mount, sending his back into the sharp edge of the ready box. “The belt that went around my back may have done as much damage as the ready box,” Loew remembers, but at the time, he really wasn’t focused on his own injuries. His attention turned to his fellow Marines who had been manning the 40mm guns down below. “The mount was practically destroyed, and seeing the men laying there, and blood on the deck,” Loew says, noting that these were older men with wives and children back home. “It affected me a great deal.” 19 men were killed that day, while Loew was one of 72 reported wounded. The injuries to his back were sever enough that he would require post-war surgery, which was performed by Nancy Reagan’s father.
Loew was wounded again on January 9, 1945 at Lingayen Gulf, when he was hit in the nose. With blood all over his face, he continued to man his gun, firing at the Japanese, until the engagement ended. He had to be ordered to go to the sick bay, where no doctors were available in the aftermath of an incident that killed 18 and injured 51. Instead, Loew was treated by a resourceful Navy Corpsman. “He took his scissors and cut the gristle that was all frayed in my nose,” Loew remembers. “Got my nose back to where he could tape it on, and I went back to my battle station.” He was later told that a doctor would’ve had to stitch it back together, which would have left a noticeable scar. “I don’t know that corpsman’s name,” you’ll hear Loew say. “But I often pray for him.” You’ll also hear him remember Tokyo Rose, the end of the war, his unwavering love for our country, and the perspective he gained from escorting American prisoners of war back home. After the war, he met his wife at Bradley University in Peoria, and went on to a successful career in the furniture business in Las Vegas. In 2014, he received quite a surprise when the USMC uniform he had lost in a move a half-century earlier made its way back to him. CLICK HERE for the Las Vegas Review-Journal story about that reunion from excellent veterans reporter Keith Rogers.
Reflecting on all the twists and turns his life has taken gave Hal a perspective he didn’t have before. “I felt more than ever that there was a God,” he says. “I had some comfort to know that I wasn’t alone.” As for the history he lived through, the freedom he fought for, and the country he loves so dearly, you’ll hear close with these sentiments:
“We can all understand the past, and that’s part of being prepared to live the future. When we absorb how we got here, how other people made it possible for us to be here, I think that more people will realize the responsibility we have as citizens.”
That’s a good way of summing up the reason Hometown Heroes is on the air. If you have the privilege of meeting Hal Loew, please thank him for serving our country.