Same school, different paths through WWII

Don Hoff in 1938 Mariposa (Calif.) High School yearbook

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans prints a newsletter called V-Mail, and as a charter member, I’m on the mailing list. I don’t pay much attention to most of what’s in it, because I probably won’t get to the museum any time soon. But I always like to read one feature, the Oral History Spotlight, which is an interview with some WWII veteran.

I got two sentences into the interview in the summer 2012 V-Mail and screeched to a halt. The story is about Don Hoff, who was a Navy radioman/gunner on a Dauntless dive-bomber in the Battle of Midway, which took place in June 1942 and crippled the Japanese navy. The line that stopped me says he graduated from Mariposa High School in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California in 1940.

That’s where my mother-in-law, Naomi Schleicher, went to school.

I remember her saying there were only about two dozen students in the graduating classes back then, and wondered if she knew Hoff. When I got her on the phone, Naomi told me she graduated from Mariposa High in 1939 and didn’t remember him. But she later found him in both her 1938 and 1939 yearbooks, and she was tickled to see that he had signed one of them for her.

Naomi Dees Schleicher in 1938 Mariposa High School yearbook

Naomi Dees Schleicher in 1938 Mariposa High yearbook

The 1938 La Mariposa book shows Hoff as a sophomore on the baseball team, and that’s the picture he signed. It’s posted with this blog. The facing page has Naomi – her maiden name was Dees – posing with fellow classmates who had earned letters in girls sports (inset). The 1939 book shows Hoff with the basketball team.

Naomi had spent her first two high school years in Madera County’s tiny Raymond, where she was born. Her family moved to Mariposa County when private land became available in Yosemite National Park. After Mariposa High, she graduated from Fresno State University.

She was teaching fourth-graders in Merced, Calif., when she met Harry Schleicher of Easton at a USO dance. Harry was a pilot trainee at Merced Army Air Field. They were married, and Harry spent the rest of the war as a bombardier instructor in Texas. Afterward, they lived in Easton. Harry died in 1999. Naomi celebrated her 90th birthday a few weeks ago. My wife is their daughter Mary.

At the time of the Battle of Midway, Don Hoff was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and served with Scouting Squadron 6. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the battle, during which his plane dived and dropped a bomb on the Japanese carrier Kaga. He later flew off the USS Saratoga and from Guadalcanal.

Hoff eventually returned to California and lived in Fresno until his death in the summer of 2010.

I wonder if he had a Mariposa High yearbook.

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