Fast Talk: First WWII casualty was POW
by Ron Swift | For the Patterson Irrigator
Jul 14, 2010 | 1368 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ron Swift
Ron Swift
Patterson’s first battle casualty of World War II appears to be Robert Hittle, son of A.B. and Rosalie Hittle, who came here with his family at 6 months old.

He was a ship’s cook third class on the ill-fated USS Houston, sunk by the Japanese on Feb. 27, 1942, in the battle of the Java Sea. All hands were believed lost, but Hittle was captured and died in a Thailand prison camp on Aug. 17, 1943, at age 25. He had enlisted in the Navy in early 1940.

Shortly after the sinking, Robert was reported missing in action, and nearly two years had gone by when word was received by his parents that he was a survivor. That error was never explained, and over a year later, an official telegram arrived announcing his death.

Besides his parents, he was survived by two sisters, Dorothy and Peggy. He’s buried in Patterson District Cemetery.

Although he was Patterson’s first casualty of the war, he became the 26th on the list when his death was announced in 1945. Another was listed as missing in a story in the Patterson Irrigator.

By the end of World War II, Patterson’s losses totaled well over 30, of which 32 are memorialized on a plaque in the city’s downtown Veterans Memorial Park.

Sad news

Many Pattersonites were deeply saddened, some downright shocked, when they learned of last Thursday’s death of native John Ielmini.

He was 80 and until very recently had seemed to be in good health, enjoying daily coffee with the Knights of the Square Table and playing competitive bridge. Not feeling well recently, he accompanied his wife Joyce to her medical appointment in Santa Barbara. A visit to a physician there immediately hospitalized John, and his desire to be home brought him back to Patterson by ambulance just a few hours before his death.

Always willing to give of his time and money to the community, he was a strong supporter of a number of causes and always friendly with everyone. John was the second Patterson generation of the Ielmini family (his father Alfonso and uncle Mario founded Patterson Frozen Foods, which grew to one of the largest independently owned frozen food companies in the west.) Upon their retirement, he became its president and a leader in the industry, but you’d never know it from casual conversation. He would rather talk about his youth working in the family’s French-American Bakery before PFF ever came to be.

John was one of those rare individuals who would rather ask your point of view than expound on his. Whether it was local politics or international relations, he was both interested and interesting.

His friends, of which there are many, miss him greatly.

Golf and religion

You might think golf and religion aren’t connected, but here are a couple of quotes that prove otherwise.

“The only time my prayers are never answered is when I’m playing golf.” — Billy Graham

“May thy ball lie in green pastures, and not in still waters.” — Ben Hogan

Trivia time

There’s no worse feeling than that millisecond you’re sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

(To the person who responded after last week’s trivia about a freezer deserving a light: So your freezer has a light. You must have one of the newer ones.)

For the sports fan

There’s a common link between designated hitters in baseball and soccer goalies — long stretches of boredom.

And finally...

For perhaps the first time, three 100-year-old Pattersonites had existed at the same time.

One of those, Anthony Ghisletta, hit the century mark June 18 while at a Modesto care facility. He died Friday, only weeks after the death of his wife Edith.

• Ron Swift is editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at
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