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A story of love, war & letters
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Phillip “Pete” Hauck reads one of the hundreds of letters that were lost that he had sent to his then fiancée Beverly – now his wife of 69 years. Hauck wears a bronze star and a ribbon with four major battle service stars where he served as a demolitions specialist. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It started out as a love story between sweethearts that transcended four major battles in World War II with the loss of hundreds of personal letters that were not delivered until war’s end.

When Phillip “Pete” Hauck – a member of the Manteca Crockett family – first laid eyes on his future wife Beverly, he was working in the meat market of a Pocatello grocery store straightening up the display case.  It was a Sunday afternoon when, leaning into the case arranging the meat display, he remembers seeing two awesome sets of legs walking toward him – Beverly and her mother.  She was 16 and he was going on 21.

His reaction was immediate, straightening up with a jerk and hitting his head on the frame of the case that knocked him silly for a moment.  It was not the way to make a first impression.

Pete had already met the girl’s dad who had recently been transferred to the area as general manager of the nearby Ralston Purina Company.  In fact the dad had introduced himself to Hauck a week earlier saying he knew the store had cold beer in the meat cooler, noting he had already paid for a “cold one” at the checkout counter.

And he had impressed the mother through his talent in preparing the best cut of meat for a crowned roast ready to go into the oven of the  1940s.  She was a natural born cook and he had already made his mark with her.

Beverly said that Pete arranged his schedule early on in going on the grocery store’s bank run to correspond with the time she walked to school.  Chuckling just a little, he said that on those 20-degree below zero mornings the promise of a warm car was just too inviting to pass up on her 14 block walk to classes.

Brothers said she was too long to date
His two brothers warned him about dating the girl.  There were too many years of differences between them – almost five.  He shouldn’t have eyes for someone so much younger, they said.  He didn’t listen to his brothers in the late ‘30s.

They were engaged in August of 1942 and Pete was drafted out of college in March of 1943 where he had been majoring in pre-law and advertising.  With tongue in cheek he added that if his grades had been a little better the draft would have bypassed him for Army duty.

After finishing basic training he reported to his first duty station he was introduced as the company’s demolitions expert – having no training in how to blow anything up, he said, already declining an offer to enter Officers Candidate School training.

The commanding officer of his unit after basic in Little Rock, Arkansas told his men that Pete was a welcome addition to the unit to provide his explosives expertise. He added that hearing Pete say that he had no experience was an indication of how humble he was about his abilities.

Pete said he found a field manual on explosives in the PX and read it cover to cover – that being his total education on the subject.  His pay amounted to $16 a month with an extra $5 for being a sharp shooter – although he had never shot at an enemy soldier.

But, in his four major battles in Europe, he placed countless charges of plastic explosives under bridges.  He explained that when the Corps of Engineers would build a bridge it was common to place explosives on the support structures.  Going into the Battle of the Bulge, they destroyed the bridge behind their unit – leaving no way out.

The day he was written up for his efforts in battle and subsequently the bronze star, he remembers diving for cover underneath a tank.  Metal helmets clashed together as General Omar Bradley dove under the same tank from the other side while grenades were being lobbed at them.  

“Where the hell did you come from,” he quoted Bradley as saying.  Witnessing his bravery in battle,  Bradley had first promised to put in for the coveted Silver Star.  Pete said he was just as happy with receiving the Bronze Star medal.

Beverly wrote at least one letter each night
Beverly wrote at least one letter every night working by day at Peoples Department Store and during the evening she spent hours at the local Red Cross facility folding bandages while living with her parents.

On Christmas morning 1944 Pete and his buddy were all set to celebrate while driving in a truck convoy.  Pete had been sent peanuts and his friend had received a loaf of bread with a bottle of beer baked in the center of the loaf.  As they pulled to the side of the road to share the beer and the bread an incoming artillery shell exploded just under the left side of their vehicle.  

Pete had been injured seriously and was sent to a hospital in France where he stayed for three months before being sent home on board the Queen Mary.  He remembers a waiter knocking on the door of his ship’s cabin and asking how many men were in his cabin where Pete was confined to bed - ice cream was being delivered on a cart outside.

He said he responded  that there were eight in the cabin and the ice cream was left at the door.  Pete managed to get out of bed and ate all of the ice cream on the cart – causing him to get a little sick.

After being hospitalized at the Dwight General Hospital in Auburn, he finally requested a furlough to allow him to marry Beverly with the doctor telling him it was not a good idea to leave the facility.  The seven-day pass took him to Beverly’s home town in Pocatello, Idaho where they were married in a Methodist Church followed by a three-day honeymoon in Salt Lake City at the New House Hotel.

During his military career he was sent to Africa where he taught plastic explosive procedures to soldiers and Army Rangers alike.  Three nights a week he focused on teaching how to blow up 12-foot concrete pill boxes the German were using to machine gun U.S. troops.

Pete said the only way to penetrate the concrete bunkers was to sneak up on their positions from the rear and use explosives to blow off the doors.  He said the Battle of Normandy saw 2,500 Americans killed in the battle and as many Germans.

Many letters still unopened
The majority of those missing letters expressed his love and his desire to be on his way home – a lot of them were very much alike.  The couple has been opening and reading a few each week, however many remain unopened to this date.  There are just too many to go through, the agreed.

“She almost got me court marshaled one day,” he said.  She had sent me a map out of the paper and circled a point on the way saying that’s where about where she thought we were.”

His commanding officer called him in and asked about the letter and asked him if he wasn’t of German decent.  “It was just a fluke,” he said, but the concern it raised when the letters were scanned for content made his life uneasy for a time.

Hauck’s dad Carl Phillip Hauck was a wagoneer in the First World War bringing shells up from the rear for the cannons.  He and his four brothers all survived and returned home at the end of the fighting. In his 60s his dad signed up as a guard in World War II and was assigned to bridge duty in Sacramento.

Having worked in outdoor advertising following the war, Pete still uses his sales abilities in his retirement to this day.  A son in Clovis had been trying to sell a half acre lot for the past six months with no buyers responding to a Realtor’s sign on the property.

He went to work and erected a much larger sign that said only, “This lot is for sale.”  He received two calls per day for two weeks selling the land.  It closes escrow next week.

At 90 he has written three children’s books and two westerns and plans to write a fourth.  His westerns received first place honors in West Coast competition.

“I want to write a story about “Fresh Water by Mr. Frog,” he said.  “I’ve already compiled a stack of (research) paper work,” he said.  “Once I get on it I don’t sleep well and have to have a pad by my bed at night.”

Pete credited Beverly for all his successes during their marriage saying that any money they have came through her hands.  She has been so very conservation with family finances that she is responsible for $1.5 million in their lifetime – even to go so far as to shop for Christmas presents in the less costly month of April each year.