LISTEN to Bud Erickson of Hometown Heroes
92-year-old Bud Erickson of Visalia, CA appears on the July 7, 2012 edition of Hometown Heroes on KMJ, airing at 1 p.m. on AM 580 and 5 p.m. on FM 105.9. Born Sylvester Erickson in San Francisco in 1919, he was raised in Minnesota, and became “Bud” when he enlisted in the Marine Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The enlistment officer apparently didn’t want to have to spell Sylvester so he wrote down “Bud” instead. 22 years old at the time, Erickson soon acquired a new nickname. “Pop,” they called him, as he was a few years older than the scores of 17 and 18 year olds in basic training. Erickson was a communications officer in the 2nd Marine Division, and his work in codes and ciphers brought him in close contact with the famed Navajo code talkers.
The 29 original code talkers, and those that followed, used their unwritten Navajo language to produce what’s been called the “only unbreakable code in modern military history.” You’ll hear Bud Erickson share memories of the code talkers, including the time he had to bail two of them out after a fight. The official Navajo code talkers website has a vast collection of information, and you can even help support the drive to build a code talker museum.
You’ll also hear Bud remember playing third base in a baseball game on Guadalcanal. When Japanese bombers attacked, the first baseman was killed, as were two men who jumped into the same foxhole Erickson tried to take cover in. That wasn’t his only brush with the enemy, but it was malaria accounting for all his hospital time. By his count, Erickson endured 32 bouts of malaria. He met first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at a hospital in Silverstream, New Zealand, and Bob Hope at a hospital in San Diego. He is still going strong at 92, as the regulars in his bridge game at Visalia Country Club can attest.
You’ll also hear Bud briefly describe how he honored one of the more than 400,000 Americans who died while serving in World War II. Leonard Sill was shot down and killed just before the war ended. Sill was the first husband of Erickson’s first wife, Bea. This 2008 article from the Chippewa Herald does a great job of telling that story.