Canton Repository

May 20, 2004

Regula recounts how WWII changed his life

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula never made it into combat when he served in World War II, but the experience broadened his perspective and set him on a course that has brought him to one of the most powerful positions in Congress.

“It sure changed my life,” said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, one of six World War II veterans in the House who will be honored in a Capitol ceremony today. “I probably wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the Navy. I probably would not have pursued education the way I did.”

During his 31 years in the House, Regula has become one of the most influential members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He is vying to succeed Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla., as chairman of the committee next year.

The other House members who served in World War II are Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., Ralph Hall, R-Texas, Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., and Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

When Regula joined the Navy in 1944, he was a 19-year-old farm boy.

“Being in a rural community with a small school, small group, my world was pretty limited,” he said Wednesday. “The Navy expanded it enormously.”

Military service made Regula eligible for the GI bill, which paid for a college education. He became a teacher and then an attorney before embarking on a political career. Neither of his parents had attended college.

After boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, the enlisted seaman was sent to San Diego for torpedo school. While he was there, the suggestion of a friend led him to a proverbial fork in the road, a wrenching decision, and a newfound sense of his potential.

A buddy in the Navy, he recalled, persuaded him to take a test to see if he could qualify to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

He made it through the first cut and was sent to Virginia for a three-month refresher course and further testing.

“Much to my surprise I came out one of five” in the course who were accepted to the academy, he said. “I got orders to go to Annapolis to be sworn in.” Regula would have joined the same class as Jimmy Carter had he become a cadet, he said.

Mulling it over, he realized that he wasn’t cut out for an itinerant military career.

“I’m a kind of homebody,” he said. “I’m a nester. My wife and I have lived in the same house since we were married 53 years ago.”

Regula tracked down an admiral the next day and turned down the chance to attend Annapolis. He said he’s never regretted the decision.

“The wonderful thing it did for me was give my self-confidence a shot in the arm, because you know I was one of 24 in my graduating class from high school, a small town, and what did I know about much of anything? And I thought jeez, if I could do this, I can probably do something else, and here I am.”

The Navy sent Regula instead to Officer Candidate School at John Carroll University in Cleveland and the University of Louisville in Kentucky. The war ended in 1945 before he received a commission.

Though Regula never left the United States during his stint in the Navy, he will travel to France next month as part of a congressional delegation to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, has invited him and the other World War II veterans in Congress on the trip.

Regula expects to be back in Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend, when the recently opened World War II Memorial on the Mall will be dedicated.

He admires the way the monument turned out, and said it should be especially meaningful to veterans who, unlike himself, served in combat.

They “had a far more significant experience than those who didn’t” fight, he said.