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A WWII vet remembers

Known as the “The Greatest Generation,” the veterans of World War II sacrificed more than most, traded their safety for the safety of others, and in many cases, continued to serve their community once they returned.

Although the war was well documented, most of these men never told their stories. They kept their accomplishments to themselves and simply went on with life.

Pete Wiley is one of those men. He’s a Farmington native who spent a good part of his teenage years in the Pacific Theater jumping from one island to another and following General Douglas MacArthur around the Pacific.

“I was no more than 17 years old when I signed up,” Wiley said. “In fact, my folks had to give permission for me to join the Army.”

Wiley wouldn’t have to wait long before his adventure would begin. Like most men from Southeast Missouri, he was first ordered to report to Jefferson Barracks for his physical and induction, and then from there, he was sent to Camp Wallace in Texas.

“When I went to Jefferson Barracks, it was the first time I had ever been away from home,” Wiley said. “It wasn’t too bad, I was pretty much as strong as a horse when I left J.B. From there, they sent me to Camp Wallace for Advanced Training.”

Although he didn’t mind his time at Jefferson Barracks, Wiley said Camp Wallace was horrible.

“Camp Wallace was nothing but sand and mosquitos,” Wallace said. “I was there for 13 weeks, and I tell you the mosquitos were so big they could turn your dog tags over and bite you underneath. I really didn’t mind leaving.”

After leaving Camp Wallace, Wiley had one more stop before shipping out to the Pacific where he would find himself in the thick of things throughout the duration of the war.

The young infantryman was sent to Camp Stoneman located in Pittsburg, California. During the war, it was the largest troop staging area on the West Coast for units deploying to the Pacific Theater of Operations.

“We were sent to Pittsburg, California where we boarded the USS West Point,” Wiley said. “There must have been 10,000 soldiers on that ship with more than 1,000 sailors to take care of us while we were underway.”

According to Wiley, his first jumping off spot was Sydney, Australia, an ocean crossing that he said seemed to take forever.

“We went in a zig-zag pattern all the way to Australia,” Wiley said. “We would go 10 miles and turn right, then another 10 and then go left. All the way over we did this. I didn’t think we would ever get there.”

It was during his first ocean voyage that Wiley first came in contact with the war. Although he said the ship was never under attack, the drills alone struck fear into the young man who had never left Farmington before leaving for the war.

“I was 17, and I was scared to death,” Wiley said. “These sailors told us when we heard the whistle for them to man the guns that we needed to cling to the wall because they were going to get their station and didn’t matter if you were in the way or not. The first time I heard that whistle, I became part of that wall.”

Over the next three years, Wiley would be in places that would be forever linked to the war — places like New Guinea, Leyte, Luzon and Corregidor. He would follow MacArthur back to the Philippines and meet people who had been a part of the Death March of Bataan.

“When we got to New Guinea, we got mixed up with these Australians, and let me tell you, they were mean, but boy could they fight. They would fight you in a minute,” Wiley said. “I was glad to see them. They took over everything. They really wanted to rid the island of Japanese.”

He said the most scared he had ever been was while on Corregidor.

“I was scared when I left Farmington, but I was the most scared on Corregidor,” Wiley said. “We got there before the paratroopers came in. When they came in they blew everything to bits. Me and another guy were in fox hole and our knees were shaking we were so scared.”

Wiley said they one thing he would never forget was when the Navy would drop flares during the night.

“Because of the shadows the flares made, it looked like someone was running. I will always remember that,” Wiley said. “When daylight came, it was the greatest thing because the nights were dark, really dark.”

When the war came to an end, Wiley said he boarded a liberty ship and headed back home. For most of the men, he added, they knew the war was over when they steered into San Francisco Bay and saw the Golden Gate Bridge.

“You can’t imagine how amazing it was to look up and see the Golden Gate Bridge,” Wiley said. “You thought, ‘God, I’m home. I made it home.’ But you really weren’t. I was mustered out of Jefferson Barracks, so when I saw the sign for Bonne Terre, then I knew I was home.”

Wiley would return to Farmington in January of 1946 and never leave again. He would meet the love of his life, Mildred, and marry her shortly after returning home and for the last 71 years they have been together.

Upon returning, Wiley first became a shoemaker but eventually took a position with the city’s electric department as a lineman.

“I fell right in to civilian life,” Wiley said. “It was pretty easy for me. After being a shoemaker for a while, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to come work with him with the electric company. I started as a lineman and worked my way up to be boss.”

Just one month after returning to Farmington, he and 96 other men who had served during World War II founded the Farmington VFW Post 5896.

“I am the last charter member of the VFW here in Farmington,” Wiley said. “We formed the charter in February 1946. When we first began, we would meet at Long Memorial Hall.”

Over the course of 70-plus years, Wiley said he has never found a reason to leave Farmington again.

“I grew up in Farmington, got a job as a lineman and got married,” Wiley said. “I fell in love with the city. It has been pretty good to me.”

Like most World War II veterans, Pete Wiley hasn't talked a great deal about his war record. Unbeknownst to most, Wiley is a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star and spent three years in the Pacific Theater. Additionally, Wiley is the last charter member of the Farmington VFW. At his side for the last 71 years is his wife Mildred. 

Like most World War II veterans, Pete Wiley hasn’t talked a great deal about his war record. Unbeknownst to most, Wiley is a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star and spent three years in the Pacific Theater. Additionally, Wiley is the last charter member of the Farmington VFW. At his side for the last 71 years is his wife Mildred. 

Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at cvaughn@farmingtonpressonline.com.

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