Marine veteran reunited with service jacket after 54 years

Jeanette Kendall/ TimesNewspapers
Harold “Hal” Loew of Las Vegas, and formerly of East Peoria, sits in his apartment, holding the jacket he lost in 1960. Loew served in the Marines aboard the USS Colorado.

After 54 years, Harold “Hal” Loew, 87, has been reunited with something dear to him — his Marine Corps jacket.

Loew, who grew up in East Peoria, graduated with the class of 1944. His classmates called him “Beanie” because he was skinny like a beanpole. Loew lived next door to Evalyn Spinder growing up on Putnam Street and he said they were good friends. Living in East Peoria as a youth, Loew recalled what it was like.

“I remember the Depression very plainly. I remember seeing long lines to put in your application,” he said. “Caterpillar was a very important part of my life. Before I went in the Marine Corps when I was in high school, I worked part-time like a lot of other students do. We all worked for the defense program.”

Loew was assigned to do yard work and handled castings, working a few hours after school and on weekends.

It was his childhood friend, Rexford Cumming, who prompted Loew to enlist in the military.

“We went into the Marine Corps together. He was a tackle and I was a fullback on the football team at East Peoria Community High School,” Loew said. “Rex wanted to go into the Marines and I thought there was a good chance that I should go with him. I don’t know if I saw too many John Wayne movies or what. ... We were all very patriotic at the time.”

War was something that Loew and his classmates heard about often throughout high school.

“We weren’t very divisive at the time, us high school kids. We were in a war and that was the main thing, and we wanted to do as much as we could for the cause,” he said.

Loew traveled to San Diego for bootcamp and was appointed to sea school. He started off with an important duty — presidential guard for Franklin Roosevelt for a week.

“He came to San Diego in his railroad car. He made a fireside chat address from his car. Then he went to Coronado (Calif.) for a national fireside chat. He was noted for his fireside chats,” Loew said. “I didn’t get to meet the president, but I saw him. I got to meet his dog. I shook his paw.”

After this duty, Loew boarded a battleship in Bremerton, Wash.

“It had just come back from the South Pacific where it had been engaged in Tinian and Saipan,” he said.

Aboard the ship, Loew was a 20 mm anti-aircraft gunner.  

“The pressure at the time from the Japanese was very immense. They started the kamikaze effect. The pilots guided the plane right into what they were aiming at,” Loew said. “They caused a lot of problems with the battleship. We got hit by a kamikaze plane in midship and one that scraped our fan tail.”

When they were hit midship, Loew was thrown against a ready box, a container in which ammunition was stored, and injured his back.

The USS Missouri sailed to the south of the equator for repairs before going to Mindoro in the Philippines.

“So in just a short period of time we were in three engagements in the Philippine islands. It got scarier. We were constantly being attacked by these kamikaze pilots,” Loew said.

On Jan. 8, Loew was wounded by shrapnel and it cut off part of his nose.

“When there’s that many ships together you don’t know where it’s coming from. When the shrapnel went across it, it was just hanging there. The gristle got in the way of getting it back straight. The gristle was all twisted and torn,” Loew said.

The doctor was too busy dealing with more serious injuries, so a corpsman helped Loew.

“He took his scissors and cleaned up the gristle, and because there was no doctor available to me at the time, he put a powder on it. He got it straightened pretty good. I wanted to get back to my battle station. I felt pretty secure there because I could do something,” Loew said.

In Okinawa, there was a fierce air attack for 60 days.

“Our men were on the island. Okinawa was a very rough experience. Sometimes we just slept at our battle stations,” Loew said.

Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, and President Harry Truman succeeded him during the war.

“Truman made the decision with the Cabinet to drop the atomic bomb. Then, the Japanese surrendered,” Loew said. “We immediately went to Japan. We were one of the first ones in Tokyo Bay. In the terms of the surrender, the Japanese put big white flags over all their guns. ... That bay was just covered with white flags. There were so many guns there.”

Being close to Tokyo Bay, Loew said they could see the peace treaty ceremony taking place with the Japanese on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

There was also another ceremony on the USS Colorado.

“That day at quarters, I received a purple heart for the wounds I received,” Loew said.

American POWs boarded the USS Colorado and they headed home.

“I think we took on about 40 of them. These were the better looking ones, the healthy ones. We took them back with us to the United States to San Francisco. We received a large welcoming. The Golden Gate Bridge was lined with people,” Loew said. “We were part of the admiral’s third fleet at the time. It was very welcoming. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Last week, Loew was reminded of his time in the military and became emotional once again when he was reunited with his jacket. Loew said the jacket was lost when he moved in 1960. He had boxed it up, but it never arrived to the proper destination.

After the war, Loew worked with his uncle at Steger’s Furniture, which led to a career in the furniture business.

After 10 years, Loew said he was restless, so he followed the footsteps of many young GIs, who after World War II, headed west along Route 66 with a dream.

“I was very restless. I was married and had two children at that time. I packed up and went west for the California dream. (Route) 66 had a lot of potholes at the time. A lot of the garages did good business at that time. A lot of the cars still had tires with inner tubes,” Loew said.

In California, Loew was the manager of a furniture store. He then decided to start his own business. After a divorce, he and his 13-year-old daughter, Laura, moved to Las Vegas. His three sons stayed with their mom in California.

It was during the move to Las Vegas that Loew lost his Marine jacket.

“We packed all of our stuff. That box didn’t get here. Where it went was a mystery to me. I never had my jacket when I was in Nevada,” he said, adding that he was saddened by the loss.

“I always had it in the front closet and I looked at it. It reminded me of how bad wars were. And I was proud of my service. I was proud to be a Marine. I thought eventually I would give it to one of my kids,” he said.

Loew got a big surprise when a master gunnery sergeant from Texas called him and asked him a series of questions about his time in the service.

“When all of that matched up, he told me his daughter saw this jacket online. Because he saved a lot of war memorabilia, she went and bought it and gave it to him. After they had it for a while, they thought they should find out who it belonged to,” Loew said.

The gunnery sergeant was able to track Loew down because there was information about his discharge in the pocket of the jacket.

“They googled my name and that lead up to the phone call in Las Vegas. ... He said he was going to send it to me and he didn’t want anything in return. He said you must be proud of this thing. I told him ‘Semper Fi.’”

Loew did not open the box until a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal came to interview him.

The jacket came packed in a red cover. It now hangs in Loew’s closet were he looks at it from time to time. He can’t wear it anymore, however. It’s too small.

“It’s in a nice special cover that the sergeant put on it that says United States Marine Corps. It’s a beautiful cover,” Loew said.

Today, Loew still lives in Las Vegas. He retired in 1972 and now collects stamps and dabbles in the stock market. His second wife died two years ago.

“I live in a complex with a lot of nice seniors. I enjoy the good life,” he said.

After all the action and adventure in his life, Loew said, “I’m pretty much a person that doesn’t go many places.”