HICKSVILLE — “I was in the first cavalry in World War II,” said Dr. Allen Hilbert, “but I never saw a horse or a horseshoe.”
Hilbert, 100, is one of many men drafted into service for the second world war. And while many may have decided which branch of the service they cared to serve on, Hilbert was not one of them.
“They assigned me (there),” he said with a smile. “I have no idea why.”
Nor does he have any recollection of being afraid or concerned with the possibility of going to war. “I suppose I was (concerned),” he said. “I knew I had to do it, and I did it; that’s all.”
Hilbert, who at the time was just beginning his career as a practicing optometrist, had just graduated from college the year before Uncle Sam called. Uncertain as to how he would serve the army before arrival, Hilbert soon realized he had gotten a break.
“They decided they could use an optometrist,” he said. “I only spent about a year as an ordinary GI.”
And so Hilbert continued as an optometrist, treating other individuals, but never seeing any combat, a situation which relieved him at the time. Eventually he found himself stationed in the Philippine Islands, where he added more responsibilities to his workload.
“I was mostly responsible for a large part of the 21st Evacuation Hospital,” said Hilbert, who maintained his optometry duties while training other medical personnel to do their jobs as well. “That’s the only action I saw,” he said with a laugh.
Was he ever worried about seeing action of a more significant sort? “The potential was there,” he said slowly. “It depended on luck.”
There was, however, one significant regret.
“I was training others, I was examining patients,” he said, “but I wasn’t given credit financially. I stayed at the bottom as far as the army would go.
“I would have enjoyed the income; instead of a stripe, bars (on my sleeve),” he said. “Corporal was the highest I ever got. A lot of guys were in the same boat; I think I had it easy.
“It was the best of the worst that I ever thought.”
Hilbert spent three years in the armed services, eventually returning home to Hicksville and picking up where he left off. “I was glad I had a place to come home to,” he said. “I was glad I could walk out of an office and walk back into the same office three years later.”
Looking back, has he any other regrets?
“There are a lot of things about raising a family that we missed,” he said, “but no. I’m glad I’m here.”