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By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (June 11, 2002 – Samoa Observer)---Leon Hance, a native of Mississippi, is a man haunted by fond memories of Samoa.

In 1943, at age 22, Corporal Hance was an aviation engineer and co-pilot with the U.S. Navy that came to Apia to fight the Japanese during World War II.

Stationed at the old airport at Satapuala, he was in charge of the mechanical maintenance of three seaplanes based there.

During his three months here, he took numerous photographs of the countryside and its people.

"Samoa was such a beautiful place back then, a true paradise," he reminisced.

His photographs include bare-chested girls taken at Lepea and Vaimoso villages.

"Back then, it was quite normal for young girls to walk around like that."

Mr. Hance said that Samoans enjoyed being photographed back then, and "everyone wanted their photo taken."

"We would carry out a photo session in the village and in return they would give us a good feed," he said.

"Most Samoans liked Navy officers better than the Marines."

"The Marines had a notorious reputation then as alcoholics and violent womanizers."

Though he never saw combat in Samoa, Corporal Hance was heavily involved in guerilla fighting when he was transferred to the Solomons, New Herbrides (now Vanuatu) and New Caledonia.

In Noea, he was blown out of a foxhole during a Japanese raid. As a result, 50 percent of his body is paralyzed.

It has been 59 years since Mr. Hance has left Samoa but still, "memories of this island paradise continue to haunt me."

"I was very young when I came to Samoa and eager to see the world.

"Throughout all my travels seeing the world in its complexities, I’ve come to realize that it’s simple lifestyles and laid back perceptions of life found in Samoa that is the most meaningful."

Mr. Hance organizes a reunion for U.S. ex-servicemen who served in Samoa during World War II every two years.

"We used to have large gatherings back in the sixties," he said, "but since most veterans have passed away, the numbers have dwindled."

"Last time, we had about sixty folks enjoying a few drinks and reminiscing about our time in the islands.

Mr. Hance was here for a week with his wife of 56 years, Bess, for the 40th Independence celebrations. He retired ten years ago after making a fortune in the electrical industry in the States.

They left yesterday afternoon.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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