Hop and Leanne attended school together in Spencer, Iowa, graduating from high school one year apart. Leanne claims to have been a wallflower waiting patiently in the wings for her popular sports-minded high school crush. She loves to share memories about him, his years in the military and their adventures.
Hop completed two years of study at Iowa State University before he enlisted, starting out as a buck private, working through the ranks and applying for flying cadet training. Before leaving his hometown on a train to start his infantry training, Hop went to a dance and kissed the girl that would become his wife. In his memoirs he wrote, “When I took Leanne home, I got the best good-night kiss I think I ever had. I really think that must have kindled a spark in my heart.” Hop arrived in Spokane, Wash. and was assigned to Company D. After a few months as a buck private he was upgraded to assistant company clerk, and later promoted to corporal.
Hop arrived at Ira Loam Flight Academy, Oxnard, Calif. on Dec. 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor. Namur credits his success as a pilot to his flight instructor, Herman Asmus, a civilian. Namur survived 166 combat missions, two combat tours and accumulated over 5,000 hours of flying time during World War II.
Upon arriving in England the fighter pilots checked out their flight requirements in a British Spitfire and test flew the P-39s until they would consume 40 gallons of gas per hour. When his P-39 was finally flight ready, Hop Namur flew to Lands End, the southern-most tip of England, to learn what he had been preparing for, to fly from England to North Africa via Europe’s coastline over water all the way, with absolute radio silence the entire way. This flight was the longest single-engine fighter aircraft flight ever attempted, about 1,500 miles. Eighteen P-39s took off on a weather-clear day with tail winds. After landing back at Lands End, Namur’s squadron learned that of the 18 fighters that had left, only 12 returned. Two had landed on the beach in Ireland, one later landed at Lisbon. Three were never heard from again. Three days later Namur and his fellow fighters took off and flew safely to Port Laity, landing in North Africa.
The fighter group that Namur was in operated under the British command of Air Vice Cunningham. All their air-strike orders came from the British. They flew from grassy fields, and they flew at 100 feet looking for trucks, tanks, troop concentrations and German airfields. They lived in tents dug into the ground about 5 feet down, all while German soldiers were advancing. The Americans moved forward as the Germans were gradually being pushed out of North Africa and eventually out of Sicily and Sardinia. In Sicily the squadron did convoy patrol and delivered mail all over Sicily and North Africa. Namur described his last mission in his memoirs, “We were escorting President Roosevelt’s airplane on his flight to Malta for a conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Russia’s Joseph Stalin. About half way through I developed an oil leak and my oil pressure started to slowly drop. I was over water and needed to find a place to land… fast. My wingman stayed with the President’s airplane and I headed for nearest land, which was Cape Bone, North Africa. I throttled back and slowly watched my oil pressure gauge drop toward zero. I headed for a small island no bigger than a large rock, hoping my engine would keep running. I headed for Cape Bone where I could land on the beach. I was now about 4,000 feet, descending slowly with the engine barely turning over. Luckily I made it to a small airfield. I was over the field at 2,000 feet when my engine froze from lack of oil. I had to make a dead stick landing. I made it okay but blew a tire from using the brakes too much. I hitch-hiked back to home base via trucks, and airplanes and found orders were waiting for me, sending me back to the States.”
Hop Namur had been in combat for 13 months. He was one of nine, out of 26 pilots, that had left the United States to be a fighter pilot. Thirteen pilots had either been killed or were prisoners of war. Namur was 25 years old and he had flown 126 combat missions or 250 combat hours to earn his way home. His missions varied from 30 minutes to 2 ½ hours in length. He returned to the states via Casablanca in an old liberty ship, the USS Pope, and arrived in the United States at Norfolk, Va. Procedure for combat pilots returning from overseas was standard, a few weeks leave and then on to a redistribution center for reassignment. Namur was sent to Miami Beach, Fla., but first, he wanted to see Leanne Phelps. He found her in Spencer, home on leave from nurses training in Chicago. They “had a few dates.”
Hop Namur soon realized his heart wasn’t at an instructor school, but instead, in England, where Leanne Phelps was stationed. He signed up for a second tour of duty. He hoped to be stationed somewhere near Leanne. He got to England, but while enroute, learned that she had been sent to France. Today Leanne giggles as she thinks about the romance and the beauty of love. She also laughs at the determination she and Hop both had.
And so, with Leanne in France, Hop considered himself lucky when given orders to join the 36th Fighter Group in Louwain, Belgium. Before he departed, however, he had some business to attend to. He took a three-day pass to see his love and took off for Besancon, France. Leanne was stationed in General Hospital caring for released prisoners of war, mostly Russians, Yugoslavs and Czechs. Hop wrote, “I hitched an airplane to Dijon, France, 50 miles from Leanne’s hospital in Besancon, hitched the rest of the way, and was kissing her in no time.” The couple decided to get married. But, they decided to wait until the war was over.
Hop continued his combat missions, this time flying a P-47, nicknamed the Thunderbird. Most missions were flying out over German-held territory and dropping bombs on trains, factories, tanks or troop concentrations and then strafing them with eight 50-caliber guns. Wrote Hop, “We’d fly out at 10,000 feet, dive bomb our target, and then strafed it or anything we saw on the way home. We had very few losses during this type of mission.”
The Germans were about finished and surrendered on May 7, 1945. Hop and Leanne set their wedding date, June 1, 1945. It took quite a lot of paperwork to get married overseas. One requirement: to take the “Wassermann blood test” (syphilis). Leanne laughed as she told that story, “He couldn’t land his fighter plane so he flew over Besancon, swooped down and dropped his Wasserman test in a homemade parachute made out of a hanky.”
Hop and Leanne were married in Besancon, France and had a 10-day honeymoon trip in the French Alps, staying in a hotel taken over by Leanne’s hospital. After the honeymoon Hop was back to his home base in Kassel, Germany, and Leanne soon put in for a transfer to a general hospital five miles from the air base where her husband was now stationed. After this transfer was approved the couple lived in a small apartment on the third floor of the Officer’s Club.
Soon, Hop received his orders to return home to the States, returning in October. Leanne returned in December, both in 1945. While serving out their last few months overseas the couple purchased a small chicken hatchery and broiler carrier business in Fostoria, Iowa. Hop went back to Iowa State and majored in poultry husbandry, enjoying civilian life. The couple began their family which included three children, Linda, Ann and Howard “Flip.”
And then, Captain Hop Namur was called back to active duty in the Air Force because of the Korean War. He commanded a radar site in Wisconsin before receiving orders to become staff officer at Itazuke Air Base in Japan. Stationed at locations in Cape Cod, Wisconsin, Canada and California, Hop was then selected as an exchange officer with the Royal Air Force of England. His family joined him in England for his two years of service there. He attained the rank of major and served as squadron leader and returned to the States with another promotion as Lieutenant Colonel Namur. Hop retired from the military in 1970 after 30 years of service. He had flown a total 166 missions during his amazing military career.
Hop’s medals are many, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters. He earned the Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
In civilian life Hop and Leanne slowly phased out of the hatchery business and went fulltime into the Broiler business, Namur’s Modern broilers, processing more than 30,000 chickens a year. They built a processing plant and dressed out about 500 spring fryers a week, year round. Business was going well.
The couple continued to serve the communities they lived in all throughout their lives. When it came time to retire Hop knew he wanted to live on a lake. “We could have gone anywhere, but we came to the Alexandria area and fell in love with it,” said Leanne. Hop passed away in 2004 and is buried in Spencer, Iowa. Today, Leanne lives at Nelson Gables in Alexandria. She still has the gleam in her eyes that made Hop Namur fall in love with her.