A legacy remembered: Late World War II veteran, city official honored with bench dedication

Published 10:34 am Thursday, July 4, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — Extended family from across the country convened in Dowagiac to celebrate a man’s dedication to both his city and his country.

A city bench, located on the 100 block of South Front Street in front of Baker’s Rhapsody, was recently dedicated in honor of the late Hugh Donald Wear. Wear, who passed away in 1971 at the age of 68, served as the Cass County Drain Commissioner for two years, was the director of Dowagiac’s utilities for four years and was a retired captain in the United States Coast Guard. 

He served in the Pacific during World War II and governed the construction of the long range technology (LORAN) station used by the Enola Gay to drop the first atomic bomb in warfare.

“Our dad played a significant and, until now, little known part in the atomic bomb story,” said James Wear, one of Wear’s five children.

The dedication was a collaboration between the City of Dowagiac and the Wears. James graduated from Dowagiac Union High School in 1962 and went on to serve in Vietnam with the Army Security Agency. His brother, Hugh Wear II, served in the USCG.

For James, being back in the city he grew up in to honor his father meant the world.

“I wanted to do it because he did it for us,” James said.

A native of Colchester, Ill. and the son of Dowagiac natives, Wear received his BS degree in Electrical Engineering in 1929 from the University of Illinois.

Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a reserve officer in the U.S. army Corps of Engineers and retained that commission while employed by the U. S. Lighthouse Service until accepting a commission in the U. S. Coast Guard in 1939.

He served with the former U.S. Lighthouse Service in the 11th District in Detroit for nine years as lighthouse engineer, and was responsible for the design of the radio beacon timer that was utilized nationwide by the Coast Guard Service.

When the Lighthouse Service was merged with the Coast Guard in 1939, he accepted a commission as Lieutenant.

During World War II, he served in the Pacific as chief of the engineering division of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District with his office in Honolulu and participated in the selection of sites for LORAN stations in the Marianas. The technology allowed aircraft to reduce the amount of extra fuel they would otherwise have to carry to ensure they could find their homebase after a long mission and also allowed aircraft to maintain radio silence during the long flights.

According to his sons, the site Wear talked about most was Tinian, where the Enola Gay – the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in warfare – flew to pick up the bomb that would be dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

Wear helped build the Tinian LORAN station on the northside of Tinian while marines and soldiers were still fighting the Japanese on the southside of the island.

Wear was stationed in Hawaii after the war, where he was responsible for the Coast Guard’s use of high-powered light units in lighthouses and instrumental in the development of many programs and services instituted by the Coast Guard.

Wear retired as Chief of the Fifth Coast Guard’s District Engineering Division in 1963 after 35 years of service. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

While the Wears originally planned to have a dedicated space with the other veterans, the city showed the family an open space downtown and the family decided to dedicate a bench in his name. 

“We wanted this so others can see what he did here,” James said. “We also wanted people to see what he did in Tinian.”