The line was so long, Pfc. Robert Eugene Hudson couldn't see the front. He probably didn't have a chance anyway.
Just 10 soldiers from his division, out of thousands of men, would be picked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Honor Guard. Only those with high scores on the Army General Classification Test and combat experience would be considered. They had to qualify for the Officer Training School and stand between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall. Hudson was 5 feet, 10 inches. At least he had that going for him.
But Hudson had lived in jungle fox holes for the last year. The line was worth a shot.
He joined the Army at 18 in September 1943. After basic training, he went to the jungle.
In Milne Bay, New Guinea, he looked up to see bats with one- and two-foot wing spans flying through the trees. It rained every day. The men pulled on ponchos and watched movies in the downpours. He contracted jungle rot in New Britain. The rash festered on his arms and medics poured on a solution that steamed as it hit his skin.
Meanwhile, the soldiers trained for the invasion of Luzon. They practiced every day until they could set up the 30-caliber water-cooled machine guns and 81-mm mortars in 15 to 20 seconds, ready to fire. Hudson was in charge of stringing wires between the phone at the front observation points with the one at the fire lines. He had to keep communication lines open during battle.
On Dec. 9, 1944, Hudson arrived on a troop ship at Lingayen Gulf, the staging area for the Luzon invasion. He'd never seen so many different types of ships. He watched a large battleship fire 16-inch shells at the landing area, red dots racing across the sky. The recoil pushed the battleship sideways three feet.
His company was in the third wave that landed, its objective to advance to the Luzon air base, Clark Field.
They marched into the Zambalas Mountains. To detect Japanese soldiers, they put rocks in empty tin cans, tied them to trip wires and placed them in front of their fox holes. If the cans rattled in the night, they shot a flare straight up to illuminate the field to see where the Japanese were sneaking. Hudson was wounded by mortar fire and earned a Purple Heart. Several times, while installing telephone wire, sniper bullets kicked up the dust around his feet. "Thank goodness they were poor shots," he said.
Hudson moved next to Panay Island where the streams were littered with dead cows and dead Japanese soldiers. The flies were so thick the Americans wore socks on their hands to prevent the insects from eating off their skin.
His closest brush with death came March 29, 1945, on Negros Island. He woke up in his fox hole, dug so his head was just six inches below the ground. He sat up, put on his boots. Just before he popped his head out, the bullets came, landing so close they pushed dirt into his hole. The Japanese had crawled within about 75 feet of the American perimeter. Had Hudson stood up just a few seconds sooner, he would have almost certainly been shot.
The platoon leader and a couple of other soldiers died in the attack.
As the Americans were training for the invasion of Japan, Hudson saw the notice. Gen. MacArthur would take one soldier from every battalion in the Pacific for his Honor Guard. It seemed like work Hudson would like. At least it would get him out of the fox hole.
But, by the looks of the line, every soldier in the division had the same idea.
A full colonel interviewed the soldiers. He asked Hudson about his plans when he left the service.
Growing up in Lake Wales, Fla., Hudson had watched his dad drill water wells. Why isn't there any oil there, Hudson would wonder.
"I wanted to go to college and find out why," he said.
He told the colonel that he would attend the Colorado School of Mines and study petroleum engineering.
That's a good school. You have a pretty good plan, the colonel replied.
Several weeks later, representatives from the Army Intelligence Service came and told Hudson to pack his bags. A plane was waiting. He was promoted to corporal.
After getting to Manilla, Hudson immediately knew that his fortunes had changed. There soldiers got hot food, hot showers and a bed. Movies were shown inside.
"I remember one of the first things I did after landing was get ice cream. At that time, it seemed like the best ice cream ever made."
He stood guard outside Gen. MacArthur's office. The general would chat with the soldiers occasionally, but he'd always salute.
The Honor Guard arrived in Tokyo three days before the peace treaty was signed. He stood guard outside the Imperial Hotel, a beautiful building built by Frank Lloyd Wright. He ate in the basement restaurant.
Hudson returned home in December 1945. Because he'd stopped taking Malaria medicine when he went to Tokyo, he had his second malaria attack on the ship back home. He had chills, fever, more chills. He shook all over. He spent another two weeks in a hospital at Fort Lawton, but made it home for Christmas.
Then, he made good on his plans, the plans he believes got him accepted to MacArthur's Honor Guard. He attended the Colorado School of Mines and graduated as a geological engineer in 1950.
The oil eventually led him to Casper.
Unit: 40th Division, 160th Regiment, Company D
War fronts: Served 1943 to 1945 in the South Pacific. Went to Japan as part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Honor Guard.
Family: Has four children. Has triplet grandchildren who just graduated from college.
His words: As a teenager in Florida, Hudson had dreamed of being a fighter pilot. "As a young boy, you wanted the speed."
But the Airforce wouldn't take him because he was color blind, a fact he didn't know until the test.
On the Web: Watch more of Hudson's story and see profiles of more veterans at www.trib.com/honor.