About three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor - Nov. 13, 1941 to be exact - a 21-year-old Vance Champion parked his car and began walking across Monroe Street near the old Swain Field near downtown Toledo.
Seconds later, the Genoa native was hit by a car, seriously injuring him.
“They didn’t think I was going to survive,” Champion recalled. “This man was driving from downtown and he didn’t see me. I was unconscious for 24 hours. When I went down, my head hit and I was out. I was in the hospital a few weeks.”
Champion’s injuries prevented him from being drafted into the military, for the time being.
“I went to the local doctor and he said, ‘Well, I’m not even going to examine you because you couldn’t pass (the physical) anyway,’” Champion said. “They wrote me up a 4F card, which meant I was ineligible for them to accept me. My whole right side was pretty well banged up, my arm and leg.”
Champion, 88, who still lives in the house he was born in on Main Street in Genoa, had his barber’s license but he did not work for a year, until a friend bought him a train ticket to Los Angeles.
“When I came back, being out of the cold weather here, I felt pretty good,” Champion said. “I went to the draft board and said I wanted to be released. They didn’t want to release me from the draft board. I said if I pass, I pass. If I don’t I don’t. I started living my life again.
“Finally, I talked to the man on the draft board and when I was called up, I went to Wall Street for an exam and to be sworn in and everybody was about gone and they hadn’t called my name. I went up to the sergeant and said, ‘you didn’t call my name.’ He said, ‘You’re not going home.’ So they sent me to Camp Perry and I spent two weeks there and took all kinds of exams. Finally, they thought I could do it and I was sworn in at Camp Perry.”
Champion joined the Army Air Corps and served from 1943-46.
He went through basic training in Utah, near Salt Lake City, and then was shipped to Texas to be trained as a medic.
“I went to a lieutenant and I asked him, ‘how come you picked me to be in the medics?’ I had gone to barber college and had my license and he said, ‘Because you have worked with small instruments.’ He thought I would fit in there.”
Champion was stationed in Wichita Falls, Tex., where he was placed in the medical detachment as a surgical technician for more than two years.
“The best way to explain it is that I was like a scrub nurse,” Champion said. “We did 17-18 operations a day. We had four operating rooms. We did a lot of appendectomies and we saw a lot of burns.”
After World War II, Champion became a barber and later managed the old barber college in downtown Toledo for several years. He also has been a member of the American Legion for 64 years.
Champion’s family has a long history of serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Both of his great grandfathers fought for the North during the Civil War - Champion is a member of The Sons of Civil War Veterans - and his grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War. Champion’s father served in the Army during World War I, and his oldest son, Paul, was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard for six years.
On Oct. 29, Champion and 27 other veterans went with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio to Washington, D.C., to view the World War II Memorial.
Champion, a diabetic who needs dialysis three hours a day twice a week, called the trip to the monument “breathtaking, for what it stood for.”
While there, he thought of a cousin who served in the tank corps in Germany. He remembered his sister’s husband, a Marine, as well as the best man in his wedding who served in the same unit as the Marine.
“They’ve all passed away and here I am, still here, and I got to go and they didn’t,” Champion said. “They had all spent time overseas and I didn’t. I have to admit that I shed a couple tears when I was there and looked around. I thought about them and thought, how sad it is that they didn’t have the opportunity to see this wonderful monument. But, that’s part of life.
“When I looked at the wall, with all the gold stars, each star represents thousands of lives that were lost. That, too, touched my heart. It really got to me. To think that that many people lost their lives for our freedom ... But, it was a necessity. We had to defend our freedom.”
Genoa veteran Vance Champion found a recent trip to the National World War II monument “breathtaking, for what it stood for.” He made the trip with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio.