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1 Veteran 2 Wars

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Bill Pavkov answered the call of duty for World War II and Korean War

By Joe Foreman, Editor

HASTINGS – Bill Pavkov’s military medals are neatly displayed in a framed case. On the right side of the case are his medals awarded for his service during World War II and on the left side are his decorations earned in the Korean War.
Pavkov, who turned 90 earlier this fall, is one of those rare U.S. military veterans who had the distinction of serving his country in two wars.

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“I was at the end of  World War II and at the beginning of the Korean War,” Pavkov said during a recent interview at his home in Hastings. “My family had seven different brothers in uniforms at different times – three in World War II, two in Korea and one in Vietnam. We all survived.”

Pavkov was born and raised in rural Doylestown, Ohio – near Akron. He quit school in the 10th grade to join the U.S. Army Transport Service in 1944.

“I was 17 years old,” he said. “My dad had to sign a certificate giving me to the government.”

Under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Transport Service operated military transport ships for both troops and supplies between U.S. and overseas ports.

The majority of Pavkov’s tour of duty was spent in the Atlantic, sailing back and forth between New York Harbor and Europe. He served on multiple vessels, including the USS George Washington.

At the time Pavkov was serving, Army Transport Service personnel weren’t being given full military status or benefits.
“We were considered the same as a Merchant Marine. The only difference is that the Merchant Marine ships belong to private companies, like Phillip’s Petroleum. Army Transport ships were all U.S. vessels,” Pavkov said. “More men died in the Merchant Marine and Army Transport Service than any other service per capita. Every 26th man died in the second world war.

“We had no guns on those ships. What people don’t know is there were 600 ships sunk within 90 miles of our East Coast before we were in the war.”

Pavkov remembers being at sea in the spring of 1945 when word came down that President Franklin Roosevelt had died. He calls it his “most memorable trip of the war.”

“It was April 1945. We were headed to England, France and Germany. We took supplies there and when we were in France, we picked up the wounded and dead,” Pavkov recalls. “By the time we got back to New York, the war was over in Europe.”

The fighting in Europe had ended, but the war with Japan was still raging in the Pacific and fuel was needed to keep the U.S. vessels going. Shortly after his arrival in New York, Pavkov was given a new set of orders.

“When I came back from Europe, they put me on the tankers to haul fuel for the Japan war. I went down through the Panama Canal on a tanker to the Pacific,” Pavkov said. “When we were in Wilmington, Calif., while they were putting cables around the ship to demagnetize it, we learned the war was over in Japan.”

Pavkov was 18 when Japan surrendered to end the war and end his commitment to the Army Transport Service. Despite his service in World War II, Pavkov wasn’t immediately considered a veteran and required to register for the draft.

“When we got off the ship in California, the skipper said any of you who didn’t register for the draft, you better now,” he recalled. “They drafted me because we weren’t considered veterans. It took them 41 years to say we were veterans.”

Pavkov returned to Ohio after World War II and that’s where he met the love of his life – Geraldine Kellar. Their courtship led to an engagement and eventually a marriage in 1950, the same year he received his draft notice.

Pavkov was drafted into the Army in September 1950 and reported to basic training in Georgia. He was allowed to take a week’s furlough during the holidays and returned to Ohio the week before Christmas.

“I came home during training and got married on Dec. 22,” Pavkov said. “I was drafted in September and married in December – I was already in uniform.”

After completing his training and getting married, Pavkov was initially sent to Japan and later to Okinawa, where he spent an entire year. Back in Ohio, Geraldine gave birth to their first child while Bill served his country.

“I was a dad 11 days before I knew I was a dad,” he said.  “I dug gun emplacements for 90mm anti-aircraft guns, guarding Kadena Air Force Base. I stayed there until we came home in ’52.”

After Korea, Pavkov returned to Ohio and began his career as an over-the-road semi-trailer truck driver.
He was content being a truck driver until a friend made him an offer he couldn’t refuse in 1960.

“A good friend of mine inherited a farm just south of Malvern, Iowa. I was driving a semi then.  He said, ‘Bill, you want to quit driving and go out and farm?’ I was born and raised on a farm in Ohio,” Pavkov said.  “I asked her (Geraldine) and she said, ‘Iowa? Are you crazy?’ She’s a city girl. I said, ‘Honey, I’ve got to do something else so we came out here. It was her and I and the three kids.”

Pavkov started farming when he came to Iowa, but continued driving as well.  By the time he retired in the early 1990s, he had logged 52 years of driving and 30 years of farming.

He served his country as a member of the military and later served his community as a civilian. Pavkov spent time as a volunteer firefighter and mayor of Hastings.

In 2009, Pavkov traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of a Western Iowa Honor Flight for World War II veterans. He saw all the military memorials and visited Arlington National Cemetery. It was a moving experience.

“I shed more tears that day than any other day in my life,” he recalled. “When they changed the guard (at Arlington), it really got to me.”

Bill and Geraldine were blessed with three children – Susan Kay (deceased), Ruth Ann and William John, seven grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild on the way.