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Veteran Focus

Tuesday, Feb. 25 | By Julie Taylor
--Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Editor's Note: This year-long series will pay much deserved recognition to some of Fauquier's veterans. It will feature men and women who have bravely risked their lives to allow us the freedom and peace that we know.

Curtis Stan Hunter was born into a military lifestyle, and though he swore to never join the U.S. Army like his dad, he ended up in the U.S. Navy.

"I've met a lot of people and I've traveled all over the world," said Hunter.

Growing up, he lived in Ft. Worth, Germany, and Colorado Springs, where he was introduced to the Cub Scouts program. That's where his dedication to the Boy Scouts of America began. Hunter's dad was sent to Japan in 1950 where he was in charge of all of the trains. The rest of the family began to ship their belongings,, including their car, to Washington state, when they received a phone call the night before they were supposed to take off.

"They said, 'don't come.' Korean's had crossed the border and all hell broke loose, and they jerked him out and shipped him to Korea," he said. His dad returned around Christmas in 1952.

"We met him at the train station. Snow was coming down, and he looked all sharp." Hunter was 11 years old at the time. His Cub Scout days were over; ss he grew older he moved into Boy Scouts.

"All my friends were Boy Scouts," he said. "We spent a year earning money. Every Saturday we were out collecting newspapers, cause in those days you could sell them. We had a chili supper, an ice cream social, we sold magazines, we did all kinds of stuff," he said.

Finally, they had raised enough money to go to Philmont Scout Ranch. The trip lasted several days. At Philmont, the troop enjoyed a variety of activities. They climbed an 11,000 foot mountain, went fly fishing, cooked their own food, and panned for gold.

"We didn't get rich but we tried!" said Hunter. After he graduated high school, he worked at a local scout camp for three years teaching aquatics. He then went to the University of Kansas. At the end of his first year he went back to Philmont as a Ranger.

"Every group that comes in gets a Ranger, and he meets you at the front door, says welcome, and makes sure you get all your paperwork, and teaches you how to cook and camp a lot of these guys came in who didn't know how to cook, didn't how to build a fire," he said.

After talking with a close friend, he signed up the December before graduation from the University of Kansas in 1961 to go to Officer Candidate school in the U.S. Navy.

In the service

In the Navy he signed up to be a supply officer. He was in charge of all the spare parts like food, bullets, gasoline, oil, pencils, paper, ships' repair parts.

"If somebody wanted it, we had to have it. We had to be independent. I learned to be an accountant, keep track of money. I paid the crew every other week with cash. I was responsible for food. Meals were served day and night to accommodate different shifts," Hunter said. On his ship, the 200 men would at times be out to sea for periods of 30 days. They had all the accommodations of living in a town, such as a barber shop and a little store. They could also refuel and get supplies while at sea from a larger barge.

"I was a seasick sailor," he recalls. "I got seasick every day. Our destroyer had a little passageway. Our corpsman, I went by every morning and held out my hand and he would give me a seasick pill. As long as the seasick pill was there I'd be OK."

When he was on deck giving orders, all the men lined up would sometimes start to lean forward. "Oh, they must be really interested in what I have to say!" he thought. "Then they would all lean back the other way and I would realize it was just the ship tilting."

"The day President Kennedy was shot, we were on the destroyer," he said. "We were supposed to have an operational readiness inspection." The inspection would either get him fired, or give them the OK to ship off. They were tested through a mock situation.

He said, "I remember waking up that morning and going up to the wardroom which is the dining room where the officers met and all of the guys who took care of the food said, 'Mr. Hunter, the president's been shot!' and I thought, 'Well that's a good way to start our battle problem!'"

He took a break from the Navy and joined the Boy Scouts for one year, but decided to go back. He ended up at the Naval Air Station at Cecil Field in Florida. As a service officer. He was in charge of food.

"If you don't have good food, sailors are not happy," he said. So they had ice cream socials, and candlelit dinners. At one of the ice cream socials, Hunter remembers one guy walking by with his sundae piled high and said, "This is why we stay in the Navy!"

Entering the war

Hunter volunteered to go to Vietnam, but first took a pre-Vietnam training course. He went to Saigon as a supply officer. "Our job was to help get supplies up and down the coast. All of the spare parts," he said. It could take as long as 30 days for a supply officer to travel one way to Saigon. All the while, vessels were floating unusable while they waited for parts. Hunter started wandering through the warehouse, asking questions. He saw how parts were divided into the three different types of ships. When he asked what happens when they runs out of a part for one ship, they replied that they place the order and wait for it to come in.

"I had a big discussion with the officer there," he said. As it turns out, all the parts were interchangeable, with very few exceptions. "You can't wait a month, people are out there getting killed! We helped them out. Cut down their time," said Hunter of his aid in streamlining the process.

While stationed in Vietnam, he drove a Suburban. Each of the three supply officers were supposed to. have a Jeep. Two of them had Jeeps but the officer Hunter relieved gave him a Suburban. "If anything happens to this car, you get out and walk away from it," he said as he gave Hunter the keys. The vehicle had been sitting down at the port for months and the officer finally asked the guard about it. He said it was waiting pickup so the supply officer said, "Oh, I'm the one that's supposed to picking it up."

At one point he went to a Vietcong village, and witnessed two girls being forced to dig a hole, searching for hidden weapons. For an unknown reason, women and children were tied to trees, screaming and crying. The two girls dug a hole so deep their heads disappeared. The man in charge yelled, and one girl threw down her shovel and started to cry. She went about 100 yards, and uncovered the weapons. U.S. troops were able to come in later and take the hidden weapons.

"In Saigon you might be eating dinner, a guy comes in and parks his bicycle, 'wham!' next thing you know the whole thing goes up in flames. So you didn't trust anybody," said Hunter. Another time, they were flying in a helicopter when the pilot suddenly said they were landing. When asked why, he replied that he had taken a round through the tail, and didn't want to crash.

"I've got a lot of friends who came back with purple hearts, and missing parts. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. You were always worried, never knew if someone was going to shoot you in the back or not," he said of his one year deployment in Vietnam.

His closest brush with death also involved aircraft. "Boss got me one night, and said 'You've got to go up to Qui Nho'n and Da Nang and deal with an issue, and find out if they have parts. I want you to take a counterpart with you.' It was on a Friday. The Vietnamese didn't do anything on the weekends. So I had to beg with my counterpart to go. 'I'm down here on my knees begging and crying! I'll let go of your ankle if you go.'" he said persuasively. "We went up to Qui Nho'n, and I said 'By the way the boss wants us to make another stop.' Had to beg all over again. So he went unwillingly," Hunter recalls. "The next day everyone was surprised to see them. The plane that had left the day before had lost a wing. Everyone on board had died," he said. One of the enlisted saw him and said "Mr. Hunter! I thought you were dead!" From that point on, his counterpart always stuck by his side.

Back to civilian life

He moved to Japan to become an aviation supply officer for First Marine Airway in Japan before everybody left Vietnam. He recalls that when Vietcong came in, they set up re-education camps.

"Basically it was like living in a prison. They learned to be a Vietcong. 'If you don't we'll kill you,' and they did. They separated moms and dads and kids and they're still recovering from that," he said. "They've got beautiful beaches, beautiful golf courses. A lot of the guys have gone back to see where it was they were getting shot at," he said.

After Japan, he spent three years on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Ranger. The highlight he remembers was when Bob Hope came out at Christmastime. "He came out and said 'Hello' and 5,000 flashbulbs went off," Hunter said. The New Christy Minstrels, a popular folk group, also came out.

Hunter moved to Woodbridge, and worked for more than 20 years as a contractor before retiring in June 2010. He still has a big heart for the Boy Scout organization, and excitedly discusses how the one millionth scout is about to go through Philmont. His time spent in military training and at war has taken its toll, but he remains optimistic: "You try to remember the good things."

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