LISTEN to Don Hardenbrook on Hometown Heroes
86-year-old Don Hardenbrook of Weiser, Idaho appears on episode #249 of Hometown Heroes, debuting February 2, 2013. Hardenbrook served as a Navy frogman in World War II, eventually assigned to the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Predecessors of the Navy SEALS, frogmen had pretty primitive equipment with which to work. No flippers, no oxygen, they were free diving, needing to hold their breath for a minimum of two-and-a-half minutes.
Swim trunks, nuts and bolts to dive (released to return to the surface), and goggles were about the extent of their supplies. You’ll hear Don describe training exercises in which they would dive down, attach an explosive device called a “ready fox” to a target, then race to the surface and flip onto their backs, waiting to get propelled up to 30 feet in the air by the force of the explosion.
You’ll hear Don recall how his softball prowess may have saved his life on two different occasions, once during World War II and again during the Korean War. He’ll also elaborate a bit on the role and purpose of SACO. You’ll hear about a Yangtze River clash between a Japanese gunboat and a Chinese Junk that he refers to has the “last naval battle of World War II,” and also about a daring mission he and fellow frogmen carried out two days after the Japanese had surrendered. SACO had operated in conjunction with Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek and his forces. Don will share the story of how he came to dance with the Chinese leader’s wife, Madam Chiang after the war ended. Another post-World War II event that Don alludes to was a secret clash in which American and Chinese forces faced off with the Communist troops of Mao Tse Tung.
Don tends to minimize the danger he surely faced in his role as a frogman, but he is thankful he survived to become a father of five, grandfather to 18, and great-grandfather to 23 and counting. After taking a total of 17 years to finish his intermittent studies at Boise Bible College, he spent 46 years as an active minister. If you happen to make it to the charming city of Weiser, where the Snake River forms the Idaho-Oregon border, track Don down and he’ll be sure to share with you the moments where he perceives God’s unique plan for his life. Make sure you thank him for serving our country, and for sharing his unique and colorful story on Hometown Heroes.