SCOTTSBLUFF — For Ed Hessler, the memories of World War II don’t include storming beaches or taking hills. For that, he is thankful.
Hessler, now 98 years old, was drafted into the United States Air Force in June 1942, six months after the country was pulled into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor — oddly enough, Hessler’s sister’s wedding day. Rose Hessler and Henry Rein were married Dec. 7, 1941.
Hessler had grown up on a farm two miles north of the Scottsbluff cemetery, and the next thing he knew he was training in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, on his way to becoming a pastry cook for Air Force officers of the 13th Photo Reconnaissance Unit stationed about 70 miles from London at a place called Mount Farm. He said the biggest difficulty he faced was working with the noisy field ovens. The good news was that his unit was in a good location.
“Well, for one thing, we were safe,” he said. “Hitler would send them bug buckets over, bombing London.”
For a farm kid from Nebraska to end up a pastry cook in the Air Force wasn’t as unusual as it may sound.
“That’s quite a bit different,” Hessler chuckled when asked how that came about. “We were all lined up outside, and they called for truck drivers and different positions. The last one, they were calling for cooks or bakers, and I told a buddy of mine we’d better sign up.”
Riding over to England on the Queen Elizabeth, Hessler recalls a group of airmen avoiding the sergeant for the three-day trip.
“I was kind of scared,” he said. “The funny part was we were in a room that said ‘Hospital — Keep Out’ and there was 29 of us in that room. ... That way the sergeant didn’t know where we were at.”
Hessler believes his unit was the first to perform photo reconnaissance for the U.S. military. The unit would fly P-38s over enemy territory and photograph bridges, factories, camps and other strategic locations to provide information for bombers to follow.
When the war ended, Hessler recalls the happiness and rejoicing for his unit after three years overseas. After his discharge, like so many others, Hessler returned to his life on the farm, growing sugar beets, corn and beans. He married Vera (Ott) Dec. 1, 1946, and the two were married until Vera’s death Nov. 11, 2011 — on Veteran’s Day. The Hesslers had five children — Elizabeth and Eddie died within two weeks of each other in 2014, Michael lives in Lincoln and Dave and Bob both live in Scottsbluff.
“It was a nice life,” Hessler, who now lives at Wel-Life Assisted Living, said of his many years farming in the Valley. “I enjoyed the life, it was a good life.”
While there were many lives lost in the war, Hessler recalls his biggest challenge coming on the way home.
“When we came home, the other guys got lucky to be on a plane, some on the big ship, and I came back on a little destroyer with 25 soldiers and five sailors,” he said. “We were out about a day or two and we hit a hurricane, and I didn’t think we’d make it. I was lucky to have the top bunk. I put my arms around that metal post, and I said, ‘Lord, I’m in your hands. guide me safely home.’ ... He took care of me, and I’m here today.”