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War Heroes

By Holly Armstrong It was a chilly December day, and as Bill Hunter made his way from the post office toward Tillman Hall, his attention was immediately drawn to Bowman Field, where there appeared to be a pep rally taking place.

As Hunter approached the crowd of students, he began to make out their chants. Even today, Hunter can hear the crowd screaming, “Cock-a-doodle-doo, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Japanese Empire to hell with you!”

“I asked somebody walking up the other way what was going on,” Hunter said. “He told me Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and I said, ‘Where is Pearl Harbor?'” “He replied, ‘I don’t know. Maybe it is in Alaska somewhere.'”

It was an uncertain time, and the United States was preparing to enter a war it had tried to avoid. After the events of Dec. 7, 1941, the Clemson cadets packed their bags and said their good-byes. Before the war there were 3,500 cadets on campus; and about 300 remained once the war started.

Hunter, who is a doctor here in town, played football for Clemson in the fall of 1942. In the summer of that year, he recalls breaking rocks where the new stadium was being constructed. On opening day, about 4,000 fans cheered the Tigers on their first run down the Hill. In his pre-game speech, head coach Frank Howard told his players that he did not want to lose a single game in the newly constructed stadium. The Tigers did not disappoint Howard, easily defeating Presbyterian College 32-13.

Later in the season, Clemson faced archrival Furman, in a game that at the time was considered bigger than the South Carolina games today. Furman’s all-conference running back broke free and was headed for the end zone. Hunter tackled him, and in the process protected the Tigers 12-7 lead. It was Hunter’s proudest moment in pads, and he still talks about it when he gets together with football friends. In addition to football, Hunter has made significant contributions to Clemson University and the state of South Carolina.

Today, Hunter logs many hours as chairman of the Calhoun Lecture Series, and has served on the Calhoun Honors College advisory council. He also conceived of, and founded, the Clemson Alumni Physicians Society. He has been president of the South Carolina Medical Association and named a distinguished alumnus of Clemson University and MUSC. Presently, Hunter writes a weekly column in the Sunday edition of the Anderson Independent. He also grows award-winning flowers, all while continuing to practice medicine.

With the 1942 season complete, and the fighter pilot college requirement lowered to a year, Hunter and several other Clemson students traveled to Atlanta, GA, to enlist. Hunter graduated from flight school in the fall of 1943, and spent the rest of the war on a carrier in Pacific waters. “Half of the squadron would be catapulted off the ship one morning and the rest would get to sleep in,” Hunter said. “I didn’t know my bunk was below where they catapulted the planes, so the first morning I got to sleep in, I got knocked out of my bunk. I thought we had been torpedoed.”

Hunter, who joined IPTAY while at sea in 1943, occasionally thought about football and his teammates. Before Hunter left for war, Harry Franklin, who was a wingback, was the first football player to lose his life. At the time, people in Clemson thought the new stadium would be named Franklin Field, but when so many men did not come home, they decided on Memorial Stadium.

Other teammates of Hunter’s were maimed and did not return to play football, and some chose not to play after the war. Others, like Butch Butler, could not stay away from the game.

Hunter remembered how Butler, who was drafted and sent to Fort Jackson, got to come back on the weekends and play football, because his commanding officer was a Clemson man.

Another one of Hunter’s friends, Charles Cheezum, was riding the train through France to the Battle of the Bulge. The train stopped and Cheezum got off to get his cold men some wine. The train left without him, so Cheezum used his side arm to stop the next train, and he made it to the battle.

Hunter has his own stories to tell. “I was sitting in the intelligence office in the bow of the carrier thinking about life, and how brief it is. I started thinking about a lie I had told Coach Howard. At the closing of football practice you had to weigh in and weigh out, and I had a large frame. I fluctuated between 168-172, but I would sign in every day at 185,” Hunter said.

“I wrote Coach Howard from the middle of the Pacific, and I told him I never weighed 185,” said Hunter. “As soon as he saw me when I got back he said, ‘You thought you were going to get killed out there, didn’t you? You didn’t want to go to your death with that lie on you soul, isn’t that right?’ He was delighted with it, because he felt like he caught me with something.”

Hunter played football under Howard, was the team physician for a time and even served as his doctor. Hunter was also with him when he died. “The guy was brilliant, and he played the dumb country bumpkin,” Hunter said. “It was a game he played. The man was an honor student in mathematics from the University of Alabama.”

Howard also encouraged Hunter to pursue a career in medicine. As a freshman, Hunter was an electrical engineer, but during the war he was inadvertently refreshed in a flight surgeons’ school. Hunter had never studied medicine, but managed to score in the top third of his class on the exam. Hunter changed his major to pre-med when he got home.

Hunter has delivered thousands of babies in the Clemson area, and has never regretted the decision he made that day. He also doesn’t regret the day in 1942 when he met a 5-foot-1 Delta Airlines stewardess named Jane that he felt resembled Greta Garbo. “She sent word by a mutual friend that I didn’t like her very much, and she was concerned about why I hadn’t kissed her,” Hunter said. “I thought, ‘My God this is a fast woman,’ and I had never kissed a girl but I decided I would show her.” Hunter then asked her how many children she wanted to have, and the couple decided on six.

The couple had six children along with 10 grandchildren, who often fight over his four seats on the 50-yard line. Jane Hunter was also picked as a homecoming sponsor in 1947. She put on a fur coat and rode in the back of a convertible in the pouring rain. She was three months pregnant at the time and battled a cold for the rest of her pregnancy.

“My wife often tells me that I have done just about everything I’ve ever wanted, and she is right,” Hunter said. “I’ve often wondered why I continued in football, but the sport gave me discipline and confidence. I couldn’t have gone to college without it.”

Holli Armstrong is the sports editor for The Tiger, the Clemson student newspaper.